Multiple Intelligences, Culture and Equitable Learning

By Reiff, Judith C. | Childhood Education, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Multiple Intelligences, Culture and Equitable Learning


Reiff, Judith C., Childhood Education


"Knowing that a relationship exists be tween cultures and education is a prerequisite to effective teaching, but continuing to teach with styles and strategies appropriate only for middle-class Anglo learners fails to meet the needs of culturally diverse children and adolescents" (Baruth & Manning, 1992, p. 332).

The high drop-out rates and low academic achievement of some young adolescents are indications that middle level educators' teaching practices need to be more culturally responsive. Instruction and assessment strategies that promote educational equity should reflect research on how multiple intelligences, as well as cultural backgrounds, affect young adolescents' learning. Educators often expect all learners to assimilate middle-class, Anglo American perspectives. This "culturally assaultive" perspective can adversely affect young adolescents' development, academic achievement and overall school progress. Educators can promote educational equity practices by addressing both students' multiple intelligences and cultural influences on learning.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences (1983, 1993) provides a solid foundation upon which to identify, value and develop students' abilities. Gardner based his multiple intelligences theory on brain research, previous developmental work with young children, experiments with animals, psychological testing, cross-cultural studies and the works of Dewey, Bruner, Piaget and Eisner. Gardner (1983) maintained that intelligence is biologically based and can represent itself in multiple ways. He believes every individual has at least seven intelligences to some degree:

* logical-mathematical: enjoys solving problems, finding patterns, outlining, calculating

* linguistic: relates to the meaning, rhythms and sounds of words

* spatial: likes to design, invent, imagine and create

* bodily kinesthetic: learns through physical movement, mimicking and touching

* musical/rhythmic: enjoys the human voice, as well as environmental and instructional sounds

* interpersonal: understands others' feelings

* intrapersonal: understands one's own emotions, motivations and moods.

The Effects of Culture

The concept of multiple intelligences has gained increased attention because of the discrepancy that often exists between school tasks and children's "spectrum of intelligences" (Gardner, 1983). In addition, culture significantly influences the development of learners' intelligences by defining what is valued for every individual. Too often, schools have developed elaborate systems for identifying and labeling students according to their deficiencies, rather than building on their strengths, intelligences and cultural backgrounds.

Educators of diverse populations will find Gardner's work on multiple intelligences especially relevant. Gardner (1994) believes American society suffers from three biases . . . "westist," "testist" and "bestist." He suggests a broader view of intelligence that allows students to solve problems in culturally meaningful ways and create products that reflect their cultural perspectives. The development of a particular type of intelligence requires three conditions: 1) the individual must have the opportunity to learn, 2) the culture must place value on the intelligence's development and 3) the individual must place value on developing intelligence.

When a student's cultural style differs from the school culture, cultural incompatibility, or dissonance, often occurs. Fortunately, culturally responsive teaching methods and activities can address the needs of diverse learners (Baruth & Manning, 1992). Every middle school curriculum should include authentic assessments that reflect different intelligences, strengths, learning styles, and cultural backgrounds and interests. As Armstrong (1994) suggested, it would be wrong for teachers to ask students to participate in a wide variety of multiple intelligence activities and then test their learning by using a standardized test. …

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