A giant step forward or wishful thinking? The experts sound off with their viewpoints on the theory of Multiple Intelligences.
Since Howard Gardner first introduced the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory in 1983, it has either been hailed as a challenge to the theory of the immutable IQ or dismissed as fuzzy theorizing. Duke TIP asked three experts for their opinions on this controversial topic.
Duke TIP: What is unique or valuable about MI theory?
Renzulli: MI theory represents a giant step forward in the way we view the concept of intelligence. Although others have attempted to broaden the concept of intelligence, only Gardner’s work legitimizes other ways of looking at intelligence and human potential. More importantly, the theory changes the way we go about making decisions for developing the gifts and talents of a broader range of young people.
Feldman:The most important thing about MI is that it reminds us that intelligence is a cultural decision as much as a scientific fact. MI is certainly not the first theory to propose that intelligence is multifaceted, but it is the first to have built its arguments using a systematic set of criteria and a review of the scientific evidence based on what is known about the brain and the nervous system.
Delisle: I have a difficult time calling MI a theory, as I believe it is based on a very selective interpretation of literature and case studies. The biggest benefit I have seen is that it has encouraged teachers to allow students to show what they know through multiple ways of learning.
Duke TIP: Are there any problems or concerns with MI theory?
Renzulli: Some of the practitioner interpretations of MI theory are resulting in cookbook collections of lessons that teach to an intelligence rather than viewing the intelligences as multiple potentials that can be brought to bear on a variety of learning situations. No one has been more adamant than Gardner in pointing out these types of well-intentioned but inaccurate applications of his work.
Delisle: As a theory, MI is convenient . . . simple . . . and wrong. My biggest concern is how we serve gifted children. So many people have jumped on the bandwagon with the idea that “everyone is gifted at something” that many gifted programs have been eliminated or watered down. Some people are under the illusion that the needs of gifted students can be met in a setting that allows multiple forms of expression. MI is a simplistic, wishful-thinking approach that seems like a good thing to people who are uncomfortable admitting that intellectual abilities are not equally distributed in American society.
Feldman: While it is true that few studies have been done to date, the theory itself was constructed on a very solid scientific base of evidence. More so than the theory of intelligence as IQ proposed in the early part of the century.
Delisle: To me, giftedness is something you have, not something you do. A gifted person is someone whose intensity, insights into the human condition, and ability to conceptualize at abstract and complex levels distinguish them as different from others their same age. Some have it, and others just don’t. You can’t train someone to be gifted; you can only cherish and protect the insights and visions they possess naturally. In essence, gifted children (and adults) simply are.
Renzulli: Some of the quibblers have said that MI detracts attention from those who are truly gifted (those with high IQs). Gardner has never said that all children are gifted.
- James R. Delisle, Professor of Education, Kent State University
- Joseph Renzulli, Director, National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut
- David Henry Feldman, Professor, Department of Child Development, Tufts University
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