The term is “Multiple Intelligences” & it is the cornerstone of modern teaching strategies. It was proposed in 1983 by Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist & professor of Cognition & Education at Harvard. In essences the theory states that every person on has multiple intelligences, some of which are stronger than others. These intelligences are how individuals learn. They are Spatial, Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Body-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, & Existential. If one is strongest in the Body-Kinesthetic intelligence, they would learn best by physically doing things; meaning that they need a hands-on education to best comprehend the material in the classroom, Teaching the Best Practice Way by Harvey Daniels & Marian Bizar (the authoritarian guide for educators in the United States) calls this; Learning by Doing.” Verbal-Linguistic would mean that the individual learns best through lectures, reading, writing, & debating, methods that are largely discouraged in Daniel’s guide as they are the old ways & are now considered obsolete. Intrapersonal means the student learns best when relating the subject matter to his or herself, & Interpersonal means they learn best in group activities. In principle, the Theory of Multiple Intelligences is a great guide for reaching the maximum amount of students.
As Daniels writes; “Genuine Best Practice embraces certain educational activities while clearly ruling others out…Best Practice, under other, older names, has a long & distinguished pedigree & is manifested through a limited & distinctive set of classroom practices.” It’s under the Chapter heading “How to Teach,” for those inclined to actually read the book.
The problem isn’t necessarily in the theory itself, the problem is in the how the theory is implemented. For starters, educators & more importantly Education professors & psychologists like to stay on the cutting edge of their field & because of this they, by-&-large, dismiss anything that they perceive as “out-of-date” & label it as an example of how not to teach. For example, America has a literacy problem, students are failing reading & writing tests more so in the years from 1998-present than just about any time prior to the wide-spread adaptation of the new teaching strategies. Remember the old days of education? The system that taught the men that got America to the Moon, that taught Hemingway, Kerouac, Thompson, & Fitzgerald to read & write? Those days are long gone, they were the old ways, the ways that focused most on Verbal-Linguistic & Mathematical-Logical intelligences, they were the days of lectures, individual reading, & individual papers. In short, they were the days students were assigned more books to read & could expect at least a five-paragraph essay a week as homework. The old teaching method that made the American education system one of the best in the world is now viewed as grossly obsolete & teachers that still use it are often labeled as “poor.”
One of the main reasons why is that the lowest common denominator in the multiple intelligences is neither Verbal-Linguistic nor Mathematical-Logical. What the LCD is, is Interpersonal, humans are, after-all, social creatures. What this means is that the stress in educational methods is group work. In other-words, the education system is “clearly ruling out,” the old individual assignment ways & rather adjusting it’s “limited & distinctive classroom practices” to teach students in groups. It could be argued that this is a good thing, rarely do people work as individuals, corporate executives, construction workers, & infantrymen are all part of one big team. Certainly some instruction in how to work as a team is needed, but by “ruling out,” the Verbal-Linguistic & Mathematical-Logical methods of old, when it comes to individual achievement skills, like the skills needed in state & federal standardized tests, college entrance examines, basic college homework, or even watching & understanding global politics unfold on the news, students find themselves more than lacking.
For those keeping score, there is a word that people use for individuals that don’t have interpersonal skills, it’s “sociopath.” Most people are not sociopaths. This is because interpersonal skills are a necessary part of survival for most mammals. Interpersonal skills have developed as an almost universal trait through the evolutionary process. They are the skills that are exercised when children play with their friends after school & interact with their parents when they get home. Without interpersonal skills there would be no civilization & possibly no human race. The interpersonal intelligence is something that develops naturally through play & human interaction. It doesn’t need to be taught in school, not when it is an intelligence exercised daily for recreation & romance. Reading, writing, math, logic, these are skills that are not normally recreational, these are skills that are not as blatantly evolutionary. These are skills that need to be exercised & developed in education because children do not use them everyday for survival & play.
Again, we can look towards Best Practice: “When typical American grown-ups are asked to reach back into their pasts and think of something that they learned easily, in or out of school, they usually recall some kind of social-collaborative learning—a knitting circle, a basketball team, a book discussion group, a tennis club. They think of groups where they worked and practiced, there was always someone coached by, where others were at different levels of proficiency, where diversity was an advantage rather than a liability, and where learners were cooperating rather than competing.”
Even Reading-as-Thinking, which Daniels devotes all of chapter two towards, has fallen under the limitations of the Best Practice Method. Take the following Sentence as an example: “President Obama has made many achievements in his time in office, he is America’s first African-American president, he headed Health Care Reform, he won the Noble Peace Prize, ended the War in Iraq, & funded death-squads in Columbia & East Timur.” The students would be asked to read this sentence, & longer texts as they advance in grades, in a group using one of the Best Practice approved methods,then asked a follow-up question. “Is president Obama a good president? Why?” Generally they are answering in front of the entire class. Uniformity is key, the answer is, of course; “yes, President Obama is a great president for his health care reform.” The student that focuses on the death-squads in East Timur & Columbia & comes to the conclusion that anyone that finances the slaughter of innocent people can’t be a good president is the student that clearly didn’t understand the reading, not because the student couldn’t comprehend the text, but simply because he or she came to a conclusion that didn’t fit in with the norm. In Reading-as-Thinking we see the death of Mill’s Freedom of Thought and Discussion, essential to any good democracy.
Then, of course, educators need to spare the student’s feelings. Every student needs to feel that they are the winners–which is why debate is largely discouraged, teams in gym class are assigned & not picked & partially why dodge ball is no longer allowed. This is why No Child Left Behind doesn’t allow teachers to fail students, why holding students back to catch up is largely discouraged, & yet another reason why the old ways have been pruned. Dr. Jean Twenge writes in The Narcissism Epidemic that “Many other cultures emphasize self-criticism & working on one’s weaknesses as a route to success in school & business.” This self-criticism & working on weaknesses is discouraged in American schools (which routinely rank lower than the “other cultures” mentioned by Twenge, Japan & China among them). In America, focusing on self-criticism & working on weaknesses is discouraged in schools, while focusing on what the student’s did well & ignoring where they need to improve is the Best Practice as it boosts the student’s self-esteem & helps them achieve higher goals, or at least according to education administrators & professors.
On a final note, to compare the focus on teaching through Interpersonal intelligences, according to Dr. Twenge, “When the credit went to their group, however, narcissists didn’t try very hard and preformed fairly poorly.” Just about anyone that has ever moved through the educational system knows that nearly everyone works below par in group projects, or in some cases, leaves the bulk of the work to the single overachiever, meanwhile, when the grade is up to the student & the student alone, they tend to put more effort & try harder as they are carrying the entire weight & their work alone determines if they pass or fail.