I may be the only Asian person you’ll ever meet who can’t do math. In high school, I’d feel as tortured in my math classes as I would now watching an episode of The Ashlee Simpson Show. Luckily, I also took dance where I was able to rock out to A Tribe Called Quest and Michael Jackson songs.
But when the time came to test my scholastic aptitude, it became obvious that the importance of dance paled in comparison to the act of factoring polynomials. As a result, dance became something that was fun, but unimportant and certainly not regarded with academic reverence.
I used to wonder why skills like art or social communication weren’t tested on the SATs along with math and verbal proficiency. I disregarded the notion, however, as I figured I was probably just trying to justify being a math loser. Then I picked up “Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century,” by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner.
According to Gardner, there are eight separate measures of human intelligence.
Linguistic and mathematical intelligences are the most highly regarded in our educational systems. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails having the ability to move with skill and coordination, the way dancers, basketball players, craftsmen and even surgeons do. Musical intelligence involves skill in musical composition and implementation. Spatial intelligence gives a deep understanding of patterns and space, such as navigators or architects. Those with naturalistic intelligence, such as Darwin, can see patterns in nature.
Lastly, there are interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. The first one is described to be a person’s ability to understand the feelings and motives of others, often resulting in productive social ability. Intrapersonal intelligence, on the other hand, is regarded as a person’s capacity to obtain an honest level of self-awareness.
After reading Gardner, I began to realize that one type of intelligence was not better than the other. Take for example musical and linguistic intelligence. Gardner explains that, “it makes neither scientific nor logical sense to call one an intelligence (usually linguistic) and the other (usually musical) a talent.”
If it is true that people posses different forms of intelligence, why is it that our education system focuses on our math and English skills? We may learn science and history too, but these aren’t classes designed to hone in on one particular skill.
And if all intelligences are created equal, we should instead attempt to have classes that focus on all eight intelligences and try to create new curriculum based on how each individual student learns best.
Harvard graduates shared the same sentiments and, as a result, created Project Zero. Its goal is to enhance student learning based on the theories of multiple intelligences. Not surprisingly, the theory of multiple intelligences proved to be successful. One study showed that, “in interviewing the principals of 41 schools using MI, 78 percent of them said that their schools had realized gains on standardized achievement scores and 63 percent attributed the growth to MI theory.”
Obviously, this is no easy task given our poor educational systems. Most schools can’t even afford adequate supplies much less specialized teaching. But at very least, proof of multiple intelligences’ success leads us a few steps closer to more successful teaching methods.
If we are able to accomplish this, then we too can enhance all eight intelligences. One day, children might be able to learn math through music or discover kinesthetic ability through nature. Once this is possible, we can begin to realize that all intelligences are created equal, and no longer will math and English be the only measures of ones scholastic aptitude.
I’ll admit that some of this may be based on resentment for having to asininely study precalculus during my senior year of high school. But this isn’t about finding justification for all the kids who felt inept because they didn’t understand Einstein’s theory of special relativity or score well on the SATs. What’s important is that we realize every person has different forms of intelligence and each should be regarded as brilliant in his or her own way. Once this is possible, perhaps people will begin to see that true intelligence is well rounded.
Eva Liao can be reached at Evaliao@temple.edu.