Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Updates on the Multiple Intelligence Myth

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm

In the latest Chronicle for Higher Education, an article entitled, Not every child is secretly a genius, explores the gap between what we wish to believe and what is true–and the gap is enormous when speaking of the theory of multiple intelligences. Everyone wished to believe Howard Gardner when he single handedly revolutionized educational theory in the ’80’s, but the idea turns out to be…wrong. Not only unprovable, but wrong! One might say that a theory that persists long after it has been disproved is no longer a theory, but a religious belief, and a bad one at that.

I dealt with this issue back in April for those who are interested, but Christopher Ferguson makes some interesting points in his critique of the theory that does not let the facts get in the way. Here is a quote worth pondering:

The theory of multiple intelligences fundamentally conflates intelligence and motivation. (my emphasis) It’s a fatal flaw. Motivation is certainly important, and it works alongside intelligence to produce results. However, having the raw biological machinery of intelligence is simply irreplaceable.

The great mystery of motivation. Even though native intelligence is required for many cognitive tasks, without the desire to engage in them one might argue that the raw material just remains raw, unrefined and not particularly useful. Of course, this discussion is a sideshow. Let’s face it, skill building is a necessary evil if one is going to get to the fun stuff and skill building is drudgery for many of us. We may as well admit that some of us are never going to be able to acquire the skill.

Still, we know some people are mechanically inclined where others aren’t, but the presumption is that a physicist so inclined to get his hands dirty could fix a car if he wished to. He could learn to do it. The same is not true for one with limited “g” (the moniker for native intelligence).

We need to deal with the world as it is. As Lenny Bruce once said, “What is, is. What should be, is a lie.”


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