Thursday, March 26, 2009

Multiple Intelligences

I attended our school's annual talent show this week. Not knowing what to expect, I nonetheless sat with eager anticipation, and just a wee bit of apprehension. By the end of the first act, I was hooked. Not only were the student MC's outstanding comedic actors, but act after act provided exceptionally high standards of quality entertainment. From opera arias and piano concertos to Edith Piaf, hip hop and tangos, the performances were breathtakingly stunning. Most important was the opportunity to see students exhibit a wide range of talent outside the "academic" classroom. Of 180 or so school days, I don't see the "real" students except in a narrowly defined scientific role. The girl I see as an excellent science student nonetheless has a piano talent that far exceeds what she can do in the laboratory. And the student who comes into the room late, disheveled, shoes untied, bumping into furniture and trailing disorganized materials in her wake closed the show with a beautiful east Indian dance of power and grace--blindfolded. This two hour show gave a glimpse into many of the "Multiple Intelligences" that are less valued by schools. Why is it that of the ten or so intelligences so far identified, schools place the greatest emphasis on two: Logico-mathematical and Linguistic? This is one of the great failings of education.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the world's best known astrophysicists, regular contributor to Natural History Magazine, and director of the Hayden Planetarium, had this to say about schools and the way they reward students: "Straight A's are not evidence of good teachers; they're evidence of a student who will do what's necessary to do well in exams, no matter who the teacher is." Dr. Tyson's point was that schools are set up in order to reward these types of students, and are not necessarily interested in recognizing any other talent.

He goes on: "If you collect a bunch of people who have risen to the top--screen writers, poets, novelists, politicians, athletes--and ask how many of them got straight A's, the answer will be near zero."

Well said.


Joyce said...

I really enjoy reading your blog entries, John! The topics you choose are so interesting, varied and thought-provoking.

I knew a little about the phenomenon of elephant training but had no idea it was so brutal! Actually, the context in which I learned about it was with regard to psychological conditioning. The point was that an animal (or person's) true potential and abilities can be severely limited (or enhanced) depending on the messages and experiences they are presented with early on.

In light of this, it's interesting to consider (as you wrote about in this entry) how educational systems contribute to our conditioning.

What society values, rewards, deems of importance shifts over time- thereby changing some of what is emphasized in schools. I think it's unfortunate that the western world is so driven by competitiveness. By imposing normative standards for students to live up to, we often overlook (and sacrifice) many great talents which do not fall within the range of constructed measures.

For example, a student may have an amazing gift of abstract reasoning and ability to synthesize information for new discovery- but may not be gifted in the more 'practical' and concrete aspects of learning and intelligence. If the student is forced to compete with 'concrete thinkers' who are able to produce (or reproduce as the case may be) concrete materials- the abstract thoughts get left by the wayside- for a time anyway, until that person leaves the school system and finds their niche.

John Stiles said...

Amen, Joyce, Amen! You hit the nail on the head. Thanks for sharing!