Howard Gardner and Education Literature

Once again, this part of something I wrote when going for my Masters. This was on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

There can be two very different responses to older articles on education. Sometimes a piece that seems somewhat recent can be hopelessly outdated, especially when it comes to the implementation of technology. Other times something written decades ago is very pertinent to the current environment. That’s certainly been the case in this class, where I sometimes read about a problem from years ago, and wonder why it hasn’t been fixed yet, when someone has already described it so well.

Given my interest in culture, Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences: Implications for Art and Creativity” was going to appeal to me. He raised a point on the shortcomings of something that only measures old knowledge, and suggested “fashioning a product” (17) as an alternative, something that can give more students a chance to shine.

Gardner noted how some of the most skilled human beings ever alive, from Gandhi to Virginia Woolf, had immensely different talents. Gardner also discussed unusual individuals like idiot savants. (17) This gets to a question for education policy. Is the aim of the education system to result in more humans like Picasso or Freud, when the vast majority will never have that level of influence? Or is it to help the majority? It’s also worth noting that some of the intelligences aren’t necessarily marketable, and some talents may be redundant, so there may not be an advantage to every school in the United States producing one Sigmund Freud each year. The counterargument is that we should aim for a society in which everyone is able to reach their full potential, so that there will be hundreds of Gandhis advocating for change, and that every subculture will have a Virginia Woolf to write about their experiences and understanding of the world.

Garnder’s assumption that “not all people have the same mind (22)” has major implications for teaching and assessment. It’s horrifying when he described “a child who at the age of six is already classified as a scholastic loser.” (24) His conclusion wasn’t that assessments were bad, but that they were performed was ineffective. He felt that process was important than results, hence the article he wrote with Rieneke Zessoules, “Authentic Assessment: Beyond the Buzzword and Into the Classroom.” The authors complained of days when “each American child takes as many as three such standardized tests every school year (48)” and I’m sure many teachers long for the days when it was that rare. These experts saw the problem decades ago, and I saw the effect at a time when students received three examinations in a three week period.

Gardner and Zessoules described efforts of teachers to have their students create new products, which is the most cognitively difficult step on Bloom’s taxonomy, and arguably the most effective way to learn something. However, a problem is that it’s difficult to assess by traditional standardized means. The English teacher Jerry Halpern described his struggle determining why students make particular changes in drafts of their stories (67) even though there must be a clear reason as far as the student is concerned, and the process demonstrates that the children possess a deeper understand than they previously had. The article cites the “hills and valleys of (the) development of a young writer” (64) to highlight another facet. Maturation can be bumpy, but students are often expected to progress in a clear path.

Another task that is effective is getting students to make reflections, which ties to metacogniton and self-regulation, two of the most important attributes for a learner, and two things that are difficult to measure on a test. Gardner and Zessoules prefer process-folios over measuring what kids know. A disadvantage is that the latter allows the initially more advanced students to coast, as they have less incentives to grow, or to push themselves.

Eleanor Duckworth’s “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” provided strong insights into how children learn. Some of the wonderful ideas would be the types of things adults take for granted, and that can be dismissed if we expect children to be like little adults who just need to be told the things that adults already know. It is often difficult for many of us to appreciate how children come to understand the world in the way we do, which requires them figuring out the things we’ve already figured out.

The piece ends with the observation that students “will some day happen upon wonderful ideas that no one else has ever happened upon before.” (14) This expectation that students will come up with something new seems contrary to getting adults to appreciate what’s going on in the mind of a child. I wonder if it’s reasonable to expect all students to be truly creative, although I don’t recall any of the students I co-taught not being inventive in some way, so it may come down to a difference in definitions and frames of reference.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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