For psychologist Howard Gardner, professor at Harvard University, our brain is like an orchestra. Instead of brass or string sections, Gardner describes a landscape made from regions of cerebral cortex specialised in numbers, music or socialising. The distinctive feature is that every section performs with relative independence and does not play with the same dexterity. An individual can be useless with body language and be a sublime orator, or a great musician may not understand anything about numbers. That is why Gardner maintains that we have multiple intelligences, more specifically eight different ways to process information and solve problems. Professor Gardner therefore formulates an alternative theory to substitute the traditional concept of intelligence –general intelligence, represented with the letter g–, which considers that mental skills of an individual are uniform and interconnected, and that by means of a test one can get to determine the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of any such individual.
Howard Garner’s theory provoked a great deal of criticism against the field of neurology –some scientists even consider it a pseudoscience–, and some claim, for instance, that the number of intelligences established by the theory are purely random. Nonetheless, the fact is that the idea of a single IQ measuring every intellectual ability at once is not compatible either with the results of the largest study about intelligence to date. Adam Hampshire and Adrian Owen, among others, carried it out in 2012 at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. According to these authors, «intelligence is an emergent property of anatomically different cognitive systems, and each one has its own potential». That is, intelligence has multiple faces, impossible to reduce.
Professor Gardner is considered one of the most influential intellectuals in the world. Awarded with the Príncipe de Asturias and many other awards, his ideas have inspired thousands of schools in all five continents, where different intellectual abilities are cultivated in each student and all kinds of innovative methods are used in order to achieve it. Gardner’s ideas also boost creativity, suggest teachers to think on new ways to bring the concepts they are explaining closer. There are alternative focuses to the logical and verbal, such as music or painting, and each approach will contribute in involving more and more students in what they are learning.
The psychologist claims that memory education is superficial. Students should rather be given the intellectual tools to think as a scientist or a painter would. According to Gardner, students develop theories about everything that surrounds them before going to school, and teaching them new ideas is as important as fighting those previous conceptions. When it is not like that, new content goes unnoticed and do not transform the mind of the student (the ultimate goal of education).
The fundamental questions about education were asked to Howard Gardner: What do we expect of education? What to learn and how to learn it? Essential issues about the society we want to build lie in education. Concepts such as truth, goodness or beauty articulate society and have to be the backbone of education as well (this is precisely the topic of his last book, “Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Education for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century?”). During the interview, I cannot avoid telling him that he seems a revolutionary, defending these virtues, when it is a cliché to brand them as illusions.
You maintain that while teaching, teachers communicate an idea about how the human being has to be.
You defend that students have to learn basic intellectual skills in schools. The problem is that it is much easier for teachers to teach lists of names. How can we change these old routines?
Which of your ideas do you think are more accepted and which ones do you think deserve more attention?
Some neurologists claim that Multiple Intelligence Theory is a myth1. Are you worried about this criticism? Do you think these critics are unfair?
Do you have any expectations that neuroscience will improve the way to teach and learn?
Psychologist Geoffrey Miller recently talked in Edge2 about Chinese eugenics and the selection of embryos to obtain more intelligent individuals carried out by the authorities of the country from the 1990s. What do you think about this social experiment?
How do you imagine the schools of the future? Are we really going to need schools?
1. A potent critique to a number of conceptions influencing pedagogy, such as the Multiple Intelligences Theory, can be read in Paul Howard-Jones’ study Potential Educational Developments Involving Neuroscience that May Arrive by 2025. (Go back)
«There is no point in memorizing lists, names, formulas, since they are all contained in our smartphones and pads. Even a mediocre teacher will soon realize»
«No neuroscientific finding in and of itself will ever dictate what to do. Education is fundamentally an area where values are paramount»