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Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century
By Howard Gardner
Basic Books, 1999

Intelligence Reframed presents itself as a progress report on how the theory of multiple intelligences has changed and evolved since it was first set forth in Howard Gardner's 1983 book Frames of Mind. The theory posits that intelligence is not a single property of the human mind, as is commonly believed, but rather that each human being is endowed with a set of several intelligences each of which can be nurtured and channeled in specific ways.

According to Gardner, there are seven distinct intelligences that can be linked to their own neurological substrate: linguistic intelligence (sensitivity to the spoken and written word and the ability to master languages), logical-mathematical intelligence (the capacity to analyze problems logically and scientifically), musical intelligence (skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of music), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (as exemplified by dancers, surgeons, and artists), spatial intelligence (characteristic of pilots, graphic artists, and architects), interpersonal intelligence (a talent for understanding and relating to other people) and intrapersonal intelligence (the capacity for understanding oneself).

The purposes of Intelligence Reframed, as Gardner explains in the book's opening pages, is to assess how the theory of multiple intelligences has been assimilated into the culture, to dispel some of the myths that have proliferated around the theory, to examine its practical applications, as well as to survey the evidence for additional varieties of intelligence. Overall, the book provides an excellent summary and overview of Gardner’s theory and how it is being applied today, one that is both concise and readily accessible.

The book consists of twelve chapters (and four lengthy appendices) which expand on a series of essays published in the 1990s. The opening three chapters reintroduce the theory of multiple intelligences and contrast it with the prevailing scientific view of intelligence as a single, general faculty of mind. Gardner maintains that his theory's primary contribution is that it "has helped break the psychometricians' century-long stranglehold on the subject of intelligence." Today there is a growing recognition among educators, neuroscientists, psychologists and others that human beings possess a range of potentials and capacities that cannot be easily quantified. "Intelligence," he says, "is too important to be left to the intelligence testers."

In chapters 4 and 5, Gardner considers several new candidate intelligences — spiritual, moral, existential, and naturalist — ultimately settling on only the latter two. While there is a good case to be made for spiritual intelligence, he observes, our capacity to grasp cosmic and transcendent truths ultimately depends on affective characteristics and we have as yet no scientifically reliable way of investigating such traits. Moral intelligence is also rejected on the grounds that morality involves value judgments and intelligence is by nature value-neutral. (Robert Coles would disagree.) Existential intelligence — the capacity to ask profound questions about the meaning of life and death — is one of the cornerstones of art, religion, and philosophy and qualifies as an intelligence in its own right, says Gardner. However, since he has not been able to find the part of the brain dedicated to dealing with such questions, he is hesitant to add it to the list. As for naturalist intelligence — the ability to recognize and classify natural species and understand ecological relationships — Gardner says that it deserves to be recognized as a bona fide intelligence, similar to the seven described in the original theory.

Gardner proceeds in chapters 6 and 7 to address some of the questions, controversies, and criticisms of his ideas. For example, some traditionalists have taken issue with the theory of multiple intelligences because they feel it represents an excuse for lower academic standards. Gardner admits that there may be schools where the misapplication of his theory is proving his critics right. Nevertheless, the mastery of basic skills must always be placed at the center of education, he insists. "I am relentlessly focused on genuine learning and insistent on high standards."

In Chapter 8, Gardner reflects on the connection between intelligence, creativity, and leadership, arguing that good leaders draw on a combination of different intelligences, not only those emphasized in traditional education. The following three chapters explore the practical applications of the theory in the classroom, the business world, and the culture at large. Gardner makes a case for two kinds of education he feels honors the unique capacities and potentials of each student: "individually configured education" and "teaching for understanding." He documents that schools dedicated to the principles of MI theory have shown improved student performance and parent participation.

In the final chapter, Gardner takes up the thorny question of "who owns intelligence?" As we look to the twenty-first century, he says, the notion that there is only one way to teach, one way to learn, and one way to assess ability will seems increasingly outdated. The challenge now is to find ways to ascertain individual intelligences and to implement different ways of learning appropriate to each person.

Copyright 2000 by Scott London. All rights reserved.