Profile: Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences, and education

Here is a brief excerpt from a superb profile of Howard Gardner that is featured by infed, a not-for-profit site provided by the YMCA George Williams College. “We are part of the British Library archiving project and a number of the pages are included on the UNESCO/NCVER voced database and on SOSIG (the Social Science Information Gateway).” To read the complete profile, check out other resources, register, and learn more about infed, please click here.

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Howard Gardner’s work around multiple intelligences has had a profound impact on thinking and practice in education – especially in the United States. Here we explore the theory of multiple intelligences; why it has found a ready audience amongst educationalists; and some of the issues around its conceptualization and realization.

“I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill.” Howard Gardner 1999

Howard Earl Gardner’s (1943- ) work has been marked by a desire not to just describe the world but to help to create the conditions to change it. The scale of Howard Gardner’s contribution can be gauged from following comments in his introduction to the tenth anniversary edition of his classic work Frames of Mind. The theory of multiple intelligences:

In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings – initially a blank slate – could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early ‘naive’ theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains.

One of the main impetuses for this movement has been Howard Gardner’s work. He has been, in Smith and Smith’s (1994) terms, a paradigm shifter. Howard Gardner has questioned the idea that intelligence is a single entity, that it results from a single factor, and that it can be measured simply via IQ tests. He has also challenged the cognitive development work of Piaget. Bringing forward evidence to show that at any one time a child may be at very different stages for example, in number development and spatial/visual maturation, Howard Gardner has successfully undermined the idea that knowledge at any one particular developmental stage hangs together in a structured whole.

In this article we explore Howard Gardner’s contribution and the use to which it has been put by educators.

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Here is a direct link to the complete profile.

To cite this article: Smith, Mark K. (2002, 2008) ‘Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences’, the encyclopedia of informal education. © Mark K. Smith 2002, 2008

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