Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, as proposed in his work, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which appeared in 1993 and has since become the subject of debate, criticism, and enthusiastic praise from those across the educational spectrum, provides a complex framework for rethinking traditional modes of education.
mong its most essential components is the notion that intelligence is not a fixed element that is consistent across individuals but that is scattered across populations and emphases certain tendencies and inherent abilities over others. Gardner’s own definition of intelligence, which certainly stands apart from traditional terms and structures to measure intelligence, is in itself cognizant of the value of culture within the context of the perception and use of intelligence. In his preface, he defines intelligence as “the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings" (Gardner, 1993, p. x) which, as he goes on to note in the following section of the sentence, this is “a definition that says nothing about either the sources of these abilities or the proper means of testing them" (p. x).
In other words, Gardner has proposed a model that is in opposition with more orthodox, standardized and homogenized approaches to education that typify the field up until more recent theoretical and ideological innovations. His detailed discussion on the eight areas of intelligence have inspired alterations in curriculum and theoretical approaches in several educational settings but as of yet, still lack the widespread credence granted to other methods and ideologies, in part because of a lack of quantifiable, reliable, and empirical data to back it—a necessity in public schools that need dramatic reports to foster any innovations in methodology.
The problem is, it is so often public schools that are suffering decreases in overall quality in the face of rising levels of diversity in schools and at all grade levels. This paper proposes that integrating multiple intelligences theory in diverse settings (diversity as a broad and all-inclusive term that will be further articulated in coming paragraphs) might provide a viable and valuable alternative to combat lowered perceived quality of schools across the country and, for that matter, across the world.
There are few gray areas when one sifts through the massive amounts of scholarly literature on the topic of multiple intelligences. Scholars, researchers, educators , and administrators seldom have ambivalent views about the theory as a proposed integrated method in their schools. Sentiments range from the boldly scathing to the defiantly cynical/skeptical, to the raving assertions that this form of approaching education offers the only true path to encouraging individual student development. As a matter of prefacing the discussion, it should be noted that there are some visible weaknesses in the methods behind Gardner’s assertions about multiple intelligences, especially when one considers the highly critical movement against him that asserts he created this theory (that went on to enjoy almost immediate popular success as a book) without any scholarly support to back his claims.
While this issue will be the topic of a more developed discussion later in the text of this piece, one should nonetheless note that throughout his seminal work on his theory of multiple intelligences, Gardner does not reference empirical facts that lend credence to his idea in a meaningful, traditionally academic manner, a fact which some researchers and scholars take great issue with (McMahon & Rose, 2004). However, for a text that is based on principles that require some degree of thinking outside of traditional modes of education, in some ways this is appropriate. Gardner’s theories have been discounted as being “too broad for planning a curriculum, inadequately supported by evidence, and representing abilities in a static manner" (McMahon & Rose, 2004, p. 42).
These are important considerations as they offer a critical view of some of the limitations of Gardner’s work, but these criticisms certainly do not warrant a thorough rejection of the conceptual framework he offers to potentially revitalize education. In fact, one might argue that improvements in education (which are an undoubted need) often require innovative “outside of the box" thinking and Gardner’s innovative way of presenting theory can be seen as a new, direct and “uncluttered" approach to academic writing about education topics (Tracey, 2007). No matter the case, education, especially in America, is in crisis and pioneering thought deserves more widespread attention.