Montessori and Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

By Vardin, Patricia A. | Montessori Life, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Montessori and Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences


Vardin, Patricia A., Montessori Life


The revolutionary work of Howard Gardner has been given much attention in the past decade. Opposing the notion of a unitary IQ and proposing that intelligence be thought of as a wide range of human capabilities, Gardner challenged the status quo in the field of psychology. Many years before his time, however, Maria Montessori also challenged the status quo regarding human abilities and potential, demonstrating that children who were "slow," deprived, and poor could thrive and grow under the right set of conditions. This article attempts to review Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, show how Montessori and Gardner drew similar conclusions regarding human capacity and potential, and examine how Gardner's eight intelligences and underlying core operations lie at the heart of the Montessori exercises and activities.

In Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, written in 1983, Howard Gardner defined intelligence as "the ability to solve problems or to create products that are valued within one or more cultural settings" ( 1999, p. 33). Revising his definition in 1999, he defined intelligence as "a biophsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture" (p. 34). Gardner sees intelligences as potentials, possibly neural ones, that may or may not be activated depending upon the values of a culture, the opportunities available in that culture, and the personal decisions made by individuals and/or their families, teachers, and other members of the society.

Gardner (1999) applied the following eight criteria derived from disciplines such as biology, anthropology, psychology, and psychometrics to determine if a mental faculty could be classified as a human intelligence:

* the potential isolation by brain damage;

* an evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility;

* an identifiable core operation or set of core operations;

* susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system;

* a distinct developmental history, along with a definable set of expert "end-state" performances;

* the existence of idiot savants, prodigies, and other exceptional individuals;

* support from experimental psychological tasks;

* support from psychometric findings.

Gardner identified eight human intelligences (see Table 1), each one having certain core operations-capacities that seem central to an intelligence, for example, as phonemic discriminations would be to linguistic intelligence or mental calculations of numbers would be to logical-mathematical intelligences. He believes these capacities are likely to be mediated by specific neural mechanisms and triggered by relevant internal or external types of information.

Gardner originally described seven intelligences and then several years ago added an eighth. He believes that all human beings possess the eight different intelligences, that each person has a unique blend of intelligences, and that no two people have exactly the same profile of strengths and weaknesses with respect to intelligences. He also points out that strength in one area of intelligence does not predict strength or weakness in other areas. Gardner also believes that any intelligence can be enhanced by concerted effort.

Table 2 presents Gardner's description of the eight intelligences and examples of end-state performances. Gardner is still considering other possible candidates as intelligences, including existential intelligence, observed in individuals concerned with questions regarding life's meaning and issues of human existence.

Shared Conclusions

Although working in different cultures and different times, Montessori and Gardner came to many of the same conclusions regarding human development. First, both Montessori and Gardner derived their theories based upon daily, firsthand observation and experience working with people, both normal and with exceptionalities. …

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