Image credit: Harvard Graduate School of Education

Interview: Every intelligence is value-neutral, says Howard Gardner

“Every intelligence is value-neutral. It can be used constructively or negatively,” says renowned developmental psychologist Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner needs little introduction. One of the most admirable intellectual cult heroes of our times, this renowned American developmental psychologist happened to be the correction of a faulty tilt in the very concept of human intelligence. We were not at all bothered about judging our children as smart and dumb, given their varying dimensions of general intelligence.

As far as intelligence and teaching are concerned, Gardner provided ample signs that there was something terribly wrong with the so-called conventional method, and it was only going to crash sometime, slowly but surely. Because, we–from the teachers and parents to policy makers and administrators–only thought of maintaining ourselves with our grim take on everything related to intelligence.

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education

The so-called bright child with conventional intelligence belongs to one line. And others belong to the other line. That is the reason why some students find themselves in limbo despite doing many things right in their schooling.

Gardner has shattered the myth of intelligence being a singular concept and proved that there are multiple intelligences within a human being. He describes human beings as the ones having several relatively independent information processing capacities (Read more about Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences here) . Branded as the founding father of the universally acclaimed Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory, Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In an exclusive interview with the Education Post Online Chief Editor and Co-founder Dipin Damodharan, Gardner says that he has moved on to study the way that intelligences are used–positively and negatively– in the real world. Excerpts…

How do you look at the future of education in the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic?

Of course I hope that we return to regular in-person classes, especially for young students. We will have learned a lot about what topics, approaches, and ages work well online, which can be boosted, and which have to be done in person. Whether and how we apply those learning is an open question. I’d bet more on some countries and regions (northern Europe) than on others (The United States, Brazil).

MI (Multiple Intelligences) is a theory about how the mind is organized and how it operates. That is not affected by COVID in itself

Howard Garnder

What do you think of the relevance of the theory of Multiple Intelligences in the new scenario?

MI (Multiple Intelligences) is a theory about how the mind is organized and how it operates. That is not affected by COVID in itself. But to the extent that more education takes place at home, with parents and students working side by side, the more crucial it will be to know about the mind of each student, how it works, what helps it work well, what is frustrating or counterproductive. This requires intrapersonal intelligence (what works for me and how) and interpersonal intelligence (how can I help my child, my sibling, my friends, etc).

As the educational institutions are still closed, how educators can teach students about survival skills using MI theory?

MI theory is very relevant since it features the personal intelligences. We need to learn more about how each of us learns, what works, etc and to make use of that knowledge– that’s intrapersonal intelligence.  And to the extent that we are working with others– peers, parents, children– we need to understand how the other person learns, what works etc.

I have always felt that online education provides an invaluable opportunity for personalized learning

Howard Gardner

Of course, the other intelligences are relevant as well– including what I call ‘pedagogical intelligence”– how do we teach someone else?  – and ‘existential intelligence’– what are the big issues in life, and how can we think well about them and make progress in understanding them?

And depending on the topic, we also make use of other intelligences– spatial intelligence in learning geometry or geography, musical intelligence in the arts, and so on.

Every intelligence is value-neutral– it can be used constructively (the way that South African leader Nelson Mandela used his interpersonal intelligence to bring a warring country together) or negatively (the way that Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic used his interpersonal intelligence to promote hatred and ‘ethnic cleansing’)

In countries like India, online education is gaining momentum. What should be the educators keep in mind to not repeat the ‘one size fits all’ mistake of the past?

Online education has become more important in the COVID era. Also, there is every reason to think it will improve, if we study carefully what works and why, and if we also reflect on what doesn’t work, and why not.

I have always felt that online education provides an invaluable opportunity for personalized learning.  In a class of 30 or 50 students, it’s very difficult to personalize. But there is no reason in the world why a good online educational system cannot individualize to a great extent. An AI system should be able to custom fit each learner.  “One size fits all’ could and should end up in the grave yard— that’s always been an aspiration of MI theory and practice!

 Howard Gardner. Image: Harvard Graduate School of
Education

Could you tell us how MI theory will evolve further, from a futuristic perspective?

With all due respect, I am no longer working actively on MI. Through the Good Project (thegoodproject.org) I have moved on to study the way that intelligences are used–positively and negatively– in the real world. That’s because, in and of itself, every intelligence is value-neutral– it can be used constructively (the way that South African leader Nelson Mandela used his interpersonal intelligence to bring a warring country together) or negatively (the way that Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic used his interpersonal intelligence to promote hatred and ‘ethnic cleansing’)

While I am not working actively on MI, I do monitor the findings about the brain and also about artificial intelligence.  I no longer think that I have identified correctly all of the intelligences and how they work, but I feel strongly that an appreciation of the multi-faceted nature of the mind will be with us from now on. 

I write about this in my forthcoming memoir A SYNTHESIZING MIND, to be published in September 2020, by the MIT Press.

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