Basic Books, New York, 1999
"People are different," according to conventional wisdom - the saying generally used in explaining varying opinions, attitudes or ways of thinking. Why then is it not a given that people are different in basic brain functions such as learning and intelligence?
Howard Gardner, a Harvard neuropsychologist, became disenchanted with paper-and-pencil tests for measuring a person's Intelligence Quotient (IQ). In these tests, people with high IQs excelled in language and mathematics/logic. A person described as "smart" had high linguistic and/or math skills.
Gardner, originally interested in music and the other arts as intelligence factors, dedicated himself to exploring these and other such diverse skills, such as finding one's way around an unfamiliar environment and figuring out which person has a position of power in a crowd of strangers.
Gardner chose the word intelligences after recognizing pitfalls in the use of such words as skills, faculties, capacities, gifts, talents and abilities. In his watershed 1983 book, Frames of Mind: A Theory of Multiple Intelligences, he defined intelligence as "the ability to solve problems or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings."
More recently, in Intelligence Reframed, Gardner has defined an intelligence as "a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture." His intent was to suggest, "intelligences are not things that can be seen or counted...they are potentials - presumably neural ones - that will or will not be activated." Potentials and activated are key concepts to elevate education to its highest possible level.
Gardner discusses several myths that have developed from his work. He notes one such myth in particular: "An intelligence is the same as a learning style, a cognitive style, or a working style." In reality, "the concept of style designates a general approach that an individual can apply equally to an indefinite range of content."
This leads us to the pragmatics of Gardner's work - how it can, and should, be used in our schools. In regard to assessment, the author makes it abundantly clear that it is observation of children, not testing, that informs us. Gardner advocates "individually configured education," explaining that it can fit with a variety of goals. "The crucial ingredient is a commitment to knowing the minds - the persons - of individual students...[the] background, strengths, interests, preferences, anxieties, experiences and goals" of each one.
Gardner lays his curricular cards on the table: "Education in our time should provide the basis for enhanced understanding of our several worlds - the physical world, the biological world, the world of human beings, the world of human artifacts, and the world of the self." It is clear that he has little patience with rote-learning, or the memorization of unconnected or random facts for their own sake. Furthermore, he posits the need for performance of the learned understanding and lists points to justify this.
Intelligence Reframed ought to be required reading for everyone about to enter college, especially those who aspire to be teachers, as well as those who are already in the education community. It would be instructive and thought-provoking for all readers.