Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Article excerpt

WELCOME TO THE SECOND INSTALLMENT of "Mindful Voice," a new column dedicated to the interface between voice pedagogy and cognitive science. In the first installment, "The Missing Brain," I posited the field of cognitive science as a natural arena for the rapprochement between what I have labeled the "eitheror proposition" of voice science versus the practical experience of singers as the basis of voice pedagogy.1 The aversion to science-based teaching evinced by some voice teachers has been ascribed to fear, defensiveness, or arrogance, but a simpler and, I suspect, more prevalent cause is the inference that scientific knowledge is more highly valued than artistic knowledge gleaned from experience. This inference is drawn from the Western cultural milieu in which we live and work, which en masse values certain types of intelligence more highly than others.

This premise formed the foundation of Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner's revolutionary Theory of Multiple Intelligences, first published as Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.2 A quarter of a century later, MI Theory has so completely entered the culture that it has taken on a life of its own, and even outstripped its creator in name recognition. The dissemination of MI Theory at every level of education has resulted in significant challenges to a century's worth of fundamental educational principles and practices.

Despite its popularity, MI Theory has been roundly criticized in academic psychology circles.3 Much of the criticism is centered on Gardner's insistence on the word "intelligence" (as opposed to "ability" or "talent"), and his repudiation of IQ tests as the only reliable way to measure intelligence.

It is outside the scope of this column to entertain a complete review of MI Theory or even to defend it, but the importance of the theory as a paradigm shift in the history of education in general and arts education in particular must be acknowledged. Even though MI Theory corroborated what most educators learned through experience (i.e., that children learn differently from one another, and that some children who do poorly in math or language may demonstrate brilliant abilities in other domains), the fact that a Harvard psychologist gave credence to this simple presumption engendered a grassroots movement among teachers, parents, and learners which continues to this day. Basic assumptions that had been unquestioned for over a century (e.g., intelligence as a dual-domain construct, or even the very existence of talent) have been upturned and examined anew in light of recent research. Gardner's MI Theory was certainly not the sole harbinger of these changes; the so-called "cognitive revolution" was well under way by the time Gardner produced Frames of Mind. But Gardner was able to capture the unease felt by the baby boom generation as they watched their own children march through the same regimented behaviorist school systems and psychometric testing that had been wrought upon them. What academics have criticized as a lack of scientific rigor in MI Theory, the larger populace has evidently found approachable and relevant, if sales of Gardner's twenty-plus books on MI Theory and creative minds are any indication.

Regarding arts and education, Gardner recounted the curious dearth of literature that obtained at the time he joined "Project Zero," a research group founded at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967 and still dedicated to the study and improvement of education in the arts. The founders believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but at the time of the project's founding, "zero" had been established about the topic.4

I am often asked how I first got the idea of the theory of multiple intelligences . . . As a young person, I was a serious pianist and enthusiastically involved with other arts as well. When I began to study developmental and cognitive psychology, I was struck by the virtual absence of any mention of the arts. …

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