Multiple Intelligences Theory - What Is It?

Why is it that some people can do things better than others? Why can Joe, new to the piano, play better than Sally, now in her third year of lessons? Why can't we all be world-class athletes? Why are some people more outgoing than others? How come some people can plan their life so well?

These questions have aroused our interest for thousands of years. The answer may lie in a theory of Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University. His original theory of Multiple Intelligences identifies the following forms of intelligence:

In the mid-1990's, Professor Gardner proposed an eighth intelligence - naturalist intelligence, and suggested a possible existential intelligence ("the intelligence of big questions").

If Professor Gardner is correct, then every person probably has different levels of aptitude in these eight categories. What varies between people are the relative strengths and weaknesses in the eight categories. Thus, it may be correct to state that in the case of Joe vs. Sally, one has an innate higher musical intelligence than another.

The cultural context of multiple intelligences is important. Different cultures emphasize different intelligences. For example, in his book, Frames of Mind, Gardner discusses the high spatial abilities of the Puluwat people of the Caroline Islands, who use these skills to navigate their canoes in the ocean.

The implications for this theory are enormous. Traditional approaches to education are usually built around verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical studies. Even our national tests are geared to measure these two areas. What of the other areas? Are they not as important?