Another definition of multiple intelligences defines it in a more functional, practical sense, suggesting that multiple intelligences is “a theory for learning that further attempts to explain the process by which individuals effectively interact with the task and the environment" (Cason, 2001, p. 161). According to the theory more generally, intelligences in their state of multiplicity exist in dynamic relationship to other forms of intelligences an individual possesses and are based not only upon a natural propensity, but through careful development. Furthermore, due to the dynamic relationship that exists among the varying types of intelligences, none are exclusively developed in a vacuum but develop fully in accordance to the others. Gardner (1993) is careful to note that there is no form of “pure intelligence" that exists alone and in the composition of his theory, he avoided “pitting genetic against cultural factors" (p. 368). In other words, he not seeking to form a theory based on a concept of genetic or biological determinants exclusively, nor the other way around, but wants to show how these two contributing elements work in tandem. Aside from these basic components, in his text that outlines his theory, Gardner (1993) states that in applying the principles of multiple intelligences, “Determining the exact blend is no easy matter, but it is possible to delineate those configurations that have been relatively prominent in diverse cultural settings" (Gardner, 1993, p. 384). Gardner uses several examples throughout his work to highlight real-world scenarios that highlight either the value of application of his theory or that demonstrate how traditional teaching methods subvert natural learning processes and ignore the important issue of individual-based learning. Throughout the course of this review of the literature on this theory, especially as it related to diverse educational settings, the theory will be further articulated according to the relevant topical issues that emerge.
Before moving forward with specific aspects of the critical evaluation of this theory, it should be noted that this subject is uniquely positioned in the literature generally as being a highly contentious theory. It has often been suggested the application of the theory “provides a context within which educators can address any skill, content area, theme or instructional objective and develop at least eight ways to teach it…[and] offers a means of building lesson plans, themes, and programs in such a way that all students can have their strongest intelligences addressed some of the time" (Cason, 2001, p. 162). In many ways, this approach seems to be naturally aligned with diversity-centered education as it does not approach the educational process as a standardized set of practices and measurement tools, but rather as an open process that not only addresses but emphasizes unique talents and inclinations. In a hypothetical classroom of fourth-graders, for example, with an exceptionally large range of socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, and more generally cultural differences, this seems to be the only approach that could best work across these lines by addressing areas of particular aptitude. This is simply because educators would be working across lines rather than trying to erase them using the broad and rather commonplace “color-blind" theory that no longer just applies to race, but to the entire spectrum of social and cultural differences (Hill, 2006). There is little possibility, no matter how hard educators try, of erasing lines, divisions and natural classifications of students by ability and other factors, but in such a diverse environment of still-developing learners, this would serve the dual effect of encouraging vital cultural differences as opposed to seeking to wipe them away through a standardized and rigorous educational method that is homogenous in approach to learners as both members of distinct cultural communities and as young learners with areas where they are best suited to excel. Garner puts forth a similar supposition but states that to effectively implement this new way of approaching education in a highly diverse setting, the process of talent identification areas must begin very early on. Gardner suggests that application of this theory, no matter what the cultural background or other elements that might influence educational choices based on testing or other placement methods, should begin by identifying a child’s areas of specialization or inclination and that education can then “draw upon this knowledge to enhance that person’s educational opportunities and options" (Gardner, 1993, p. 10).
Near his section offering policy and future educational recommendations, Gardner notes how educational settings can provide environments that favor both the expression and subsequent recognition of inclination. To this end, Gardner (1993) states, “Such involvements in rich and provocative environments are most likely to elicit ‘markers’—those signs of early giftedness that are readily noticed by adults expert in a particular intellectual domain. The future musician may be marked by perfect pitch; the child gifted in personal matters, by his intuitions about the motives of others; the budding scientist by his ability to pose provocative questions and then follow them up with appropriate ones" (p. 385). While this is appropriate for all educational settings in his view, the question becomes how to adapt these principles across educational settings that vary extensively in terms of general diversity as well as schools that vary in funding. This approach might be viewed by some as overly-idealistic in its prospective reach and capabilities as the construction of such an enriching environment that fosters early recognition of markers would require specialized staffing and talented educators who can be expensive to retain, especially for failing public schools who already lack funding and support due to testing score disparities and local economies.
In the wake of both the instant appeal granted versus the great deal of skepticism over the lack of empirical data supporting the ideas proposed by Gardner, some scholars (McMahon & Rose, 2004) attempted to create reliable measures whereby they could scientifically test the application of the theory of multiple intelligences. The study conducted by McMahon and Rose (2004) for instance, examined practice of the theory in the context of reading achievement using the Teele Invetory of Multiple Intelligences. The conclusions however, yielded the resulting assertion that the general measures used to initially determine aptitudes were not reliable and furthermore, the results did not demonstrate any clear alignment with Gardner’s theories. For instance, students with the highest recorded aptitudes for logical-mathematical intelligence “were more likely to demonstrate at or above grade-level reading comprehension scores compared with students who scored lower on logical-mathematical intelligence, and none of the other MI scales were predictive for student achievement" (McMahon & Rose, 2004, p. 42). One of the secondary research questions posed by McMahon and Rose (2004) was how reliable the measures to examine the effectiveness of MI theory application were through their use of one of the standard measurement instruments, the Teele Inventory. The researchers proved that both Gardner’s theory and the tools used to gauge it were not correct or reliable and offered in their recommendations an urgent call for rethinking any investment in the theory. In the context of this discussion, however, these criticisms offered by the McMahon and Rose (2004) study are important due to the sample population of 288 fourth-grade students from 2 schools, one in suburban Chicago, and the other centrally-located in urban Chicago. The authors do not provide specific breakdown of gender, race, and other factors that constitute diversity but make it clear on several occasions that, “the majority of the students in the participating schools represented low-income, ethnic minority students" (p. 43). The implications of this fact led one to at least posit the idea that while there could be extensive benefits to implementing a practical theory of multiple intelligences in diverse educational settings, there are few ways to prove the overall impact of this teaching style as there might not be reliable testing instruments to form a reliable and adequate conclusion about successes or failures. What this means is that while it might be a popular mode of instruction, even since its inception with the publication of Gardner’s book in 1993, it cannot be quantified—a major problem for public schools in particular who require practicable, proven solutions for the many inadequacies in education.