CAMBRIDGE, MA - JUNE 4: Harvard University stu...

“…[Howard] Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who won a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius award” in 1981, has had enormous influence, particularly in our schools. Briefly, he has posited that our intellectual abilities are divided among at least eight abilities: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. The appealing elements of the theory are numerous.

Multiple intelligences put every child on an equal footing, granting the hope of identical value in an ostensible meritocracy. The theory fits well with a number of the assumptions that have dominated educational philosophy for years. The movements that took flower in the mid-20th century have argued for the essential sameness of all healthy human beings and for a policy of social justice that treats all people the same. Above all, many educators have adhered to the social construction of reality — the idea that redefining the way we treat children will redefine their abilities and future successes. (Perhaps that’s what leads some parents to put their faith in “Baby Einstein” videos: the hope that a little nurturing television will send their kids to Harvard.) It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of Gardner’s work, both in repudiating that elitist, unfair concept of “g” and in guiding thought in psychology as it applies to education.

The only problem, with all respect to Gardner: There probably is just a single intelligence or capacity to learn, not multiple ones devoted to independent tasks. To varying degrees, some individuals have this capacity, and others do not. To be sure, there is much debate about Gardner’s theory in the literature, with contenders for and against. Nonetheless, empirical evidence has not been robust. While the theory sounds nice (perhaps because it sounds nice), it is more intuitive than empirical. In other words, the eight intelligences are based more on philosophy than on data.” (The Chronicle of Higher Education)