Howard Gardner and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

I’m generally impressed by . In my impressions of Extraordinary Minds and “Multiple intelligences after twenty years,” I noted with pleasure his emphasis on practice and focus in developing expertise.

Howard, his “theory multiple intelligences” is simply outside not just the realm of social science. It’s a theory-centered approach that appears to be allergic to empirical verification or falsification. Gardner has written (in Educational Psychologist 41(4)) that he is not involved in operationalizing his theory because he fears such measures would be “misused,” and (like some other writers I follow) his hype both distracts from and occasionally contradicts his substance.

Now, (courtesy of Intelligent Insights), a PDF or Arthur Jensen‘s reivew of the new book on Gardner.

I agree with Jensen:

Probably many educationists with little interest in acquiring a clear understanding of scientific psychology and psychometrics have uncritically embraced Gardner’s psychology out of desperation. The persistent frustration of the educational system’s dealing realistically with the wide range of scholastic aptitude in the nation’s schools creates a fertile ground for seemingly attractive educational nostrums. Gardner’s invention of the term “multiple intelligences” capitalizes on the high valuation the public accords to the word “intelligence.” The appeal of Gardner’s terminology has been parodied as the Marie Antoinette theory of schooling: if the people have no bread, let them eat cake.

“Multiple Intelligence” theory is useful to the extent that it allows recognition of the fact that people are skilled in different things, practice makes them more skilled, and specialization is good. M.I. theory is dangerous to the extent it prevents those who need intensive education the most (those with low general intelligence) from getting it, out of a misguided notion they are “differently” intelligent, and also to the extent that its generally anti-scientific worldview gets accepted by educators.