What comes first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know, but a similar question could be put forth about schools: And what comes first, the intelligence of the school or the intelligences of the students? Should the intelligences of the students fit the school or should the intelligence of the school fit the students? Or does it work both ways? Some educators say that the intelligences of the students should be the primary concern of schools! Let me explain.
That’s right, in some cases, it’s the school that is “not so smart, “ not the students! The research done by Howard Gardner and his colleagues produced a publication called Multiple Intelligences, The Theory in Practice—A Reader (Basic Books, 1993), which lays out some findings from brain research about the concept of human intelligences (yes the plural of intelligence), which has influenced how we can plan and design our schools and/or schooling. So the question that we now have is what kinds of schools are better for our children–those that incorporate the findings about multiple intelligences of not? Let’s examine this question.
One of the things that one finds in most Pre-K-12 schools is that they are oriented to the kind of thinking that mostly emphasizes linguistic-logical ways of looking at the intelligence of Chicano and Chicana students. As such, the schools are structured and designed to address primarily or mostly those two ways that Chicanos/as demonstrate intelligence. As such, and for the most part, the way Chicano/a students are assessed (in their educational progress) is usually through tests that measure mostly linguistic intelligence and mathematical-logical competency in students. This is not in and of itself all bad, but it may be that we are ignoring a greater human potential that many Chicanos and Chicanas may possess.
What the theory of multiple intelligences reveals, is that there are five other ways that Chicanos/as can demonstrate intelligence. So then the question arises: how else should parents want their children to be intelligent? And if there are other ways of being intelligent how will these other ways of learning benefit our children? And subsequently, our ethnic group, our society and our nation? Herein I will address these issues.
For those of you who have read one of my previous articles pertaining to incorporation of Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs, I laid out some basic human needs that should be met in schools to maximize learning. Well, once such needs have been met, there is also a way to make the school fit the abilities of the kinds of intelligences which students bring to the school. Did you know that? And I would also contend, that by our doing so, we will expand on the notion of a greater equal educational opportunity (EEO) for our Chicano and Chicana children, by designing their education more accurately to fit their talents.
So you may ask, how can we increase EEO for our children? One strategy is to look at the seven multiple intelligences (“MI”) that Gardner, et al, have identified and then structure our schools accordingly. So let me first explain what the seven Multiple Intelligences (“MI”) are. The seven areas of intelligence are listed below and please note that the listing of these is not intended to imply their order of importance, priority, and/or preference. Gardner himself states, “I am convinced that all seven of the intelligences have an equal claim to priority.” (Ibid. P. 8) The seven intelligences are:
1. Linguistic Intelligence–exhibited by poets, hip-hop artists, and singers;
for example, Octavio Paz (Nobel Prize in Literature), Miguel Leon Portillo (Nahuatl thought and literature); also poet Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales
2. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence–exhibited by mathematicians and scientists; for example, Ernesto Lupercio and Jesus A. De Loera;
3. Spatial Intelligence—exhibited by the ability to form a mental model of a special world and to be able to maneuver and operate using that model (exhibited by sailors, surgeons, archetects, sculptors, and painters); for example, Santiago Cristobal Sandoval, Maria Elena Delgado, Ignacio Asunsolo, and Josefina Aguilar, all sculptors;
4. Musical Intelligence–exhibited by persons such as Mozart and Beethoven; for example, Armando Manzanero, Consuelo Velazquez, Maria Grever, and Chacho Gaytan all Mexican composers;
5. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence—exhibited by the ability to solve problems or fashion products using one’s body, or parts of the body (exhibited by surgeons, dancers, athletes, and crafts people); for example, Gerardo Taracena, Rosario Mendoza, Gloria Contreras Roeniger, and Omar “RoxRite” Delgado Macia, all dancers;
6. Interpersonal Intelligence—exhibited by the ability to understand other people and to understand what motivates them (exhibited by politicians, teachers, religious leaders, and clinicians); for example, Cesar E. Chavez, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Benito Juarez, Juan Nepomuceno Seguin, all great leaders;
7. Intrapersonal Intelligence is the ability to look inward, and form an accurate view of oneself, and to use that to live a better life by being perceptive and insightful; for example, Enrique Gonzalez Rojo, Jr., Antonio Caso Andrade, and Manuel Delanda, all philosophers from Mexico;
Subsequent to the publishing of Gardner’s book in 1993, Gardner and his colleagues came up with two additional kinds of intelligences and I list those herein as well. They are:
8. Naturalistic Intelligence (has to do with nurturing and relating information to one’s natural surroundings, such as that demonstrated by classifying plants, animals, insects, rocks, and/or land forms (such as the intelligence exhibited by Audubon with birds, or exhibited by botanists with plant various species, or exhibited by geologists with certain types of rocks.)
9. Existential Intelligence (has to do with spiritual or religious intelligence), such as that exhibited by persons able to perceive phenomena or questions beyond sensory data (such as great spiritual leaders).
In addition, the above shown nine intelligences in persons seem to be innate or self-generated without any formal education. The other thing that is important to know is that the above-listed intelligences need not be the only ones that exist in a person, nor do they exist in isolation, and may appear co-jointly in a person. Dancers for example have both musical and bodily-kinesthetic, and surgeons have both spatial intelligence and bodily-kinesthetic skill with great hand to eye coordination intelligence. Persons wishing to see a listing of these nine intelligences to show as a handout to others can go to: https://quizlet.com/32490801/howard-gardners-multiple-intelligence-theory-flash-cards/.
Another thing to consider, according “MI” theory, is that “in almost everybody else the intelligences work together to solve problems, to yield various kinds of cultural end states—vocations, avocations, and the like.” In addition, Gardner also tells us that “we are all so different largely because we all have combinations of intelligences.” (Ibid. P. 9 & 11) So our intelligences do not always exist in isolation from each other.
Gardner also states, “This is my theory of multiple intelligences in capsule form. In my view, the purpose of school should be to develop intelligences and to help people reach vocational and avocational goals that are appropriate to their particular spectrum of intelligences. People are helped to do so, I believe, feel more engaged and competent, therefore more inclined to serve the society in a constructive way.” (Ibid. P. 9) I would also add that if schools are expected to help Chicano and Chicana students to reach their potential, that it would stand to reason that we do everything possible to incorporate the theory of multiple intelligences (“MI”) into teaching and learning practices whenever possible in Pre-K-12 school settings. In other words, with “MI” we are talking about the notion of individual-centered schools which are geared to optimal understanding and development of each Chicano/a student’s intelligences profile. This is in direct contrast to the “one size fits all” model of schooling which most PreK-12 public school settings exemplify.
According to MI advocates, “An individual-centered school would be rich in assessment of individual abilities and proclivities. It would seek to match individuals not only to curricular areas, but also to particular ways of teaching those subjects.” (Ibid, P. 10) In addition, in the upper grades, there would be a greater attempt to match the proclivities of individual Chicano/a students with various kinds of life and workplace options that are available. Coincidentally, both Maslow and Gardner promote the same thing: the greater self-actualization of the student. In other words, they complement each other.
So here is my take on this subject: We need to get our district school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers on board with the concept of multiple intelligences (“MI”)! You see, in order to self-actualize the students, we need to self-actualize the schools, Pre-K thru 12, in all subjects. In other words we need to make a drastic paradigm shift, and prepare our schools from the ground up to fit kids, and not the other way around, i.e., make kids fit the schools!
To implement MI may, however, will take a whole new approach to education in many school districts. But no change to schools (or school improvement efforts) are free of “start-up” issues, and/or of bumps along the road—they are part of the process of implementing change. Furthermore, there will occur the need to do a lot of “tweaking” of MI philosophy and practices once a school district starts to implement “MI.” The reasons for such “tweaking” that MI proponents point to are that many schools are too often characterized by “one-track” thinking. In addition, Gardner tells us that schools sometimes suffer from three basic biases, they are:
a) Being “Westist,” or putting certain Western cultural values, some dating back to Socrates, on a pedestal. In other words, emphasizing mainly the Socratic method of thinking logically–which is not the only way to think! Rationality is not the only virtue. Our schools in the U.S. tend also to emphasize what is called “left-brain” thinking, i.e., the logical, and that many times discourages the use of “right-brain” thinking which is the creative way of thinking which some persons claim is “illogical;”
b) Being “Testist,” or putting all or most emphasis on paper and pencil testing of skills, i.e., like circling the correct dot on a particular Likert scale answer sheet to show how smart a person is; or measuring learning and achievement only by testing, rather than taking a more humane and broader approach to assessment, such as the “portfolio approach” which assesses learning from multiple results or a combination of skills. For example, can a student demonstrate his or her understanding of a mathematical problem via art, dance, sculpture, music, and/or poetry? Or only by a paper and pencil test?
c) Being “Bestist,” which is the thinking in education that emphasizes that all answers to a certain problem lie in one certain approach, such as logical mathematical thinking; Gardner suggests that our views on intellect need to be modified to represent a more comprehensive point of view. Bertrand Russel is credited with saying, “The only thing that you can be certain about, is that when you are certain about something, that you are almost certainly mistaken.” So we need ameliorate our thinking that what we consider “the best,” may not necessarily (100% of the time) be the best, i.e., avoid one track thinking.
Now comes the implementation phase of “MI” in schools. One of the things that I find crucial when we consider what needs to be done to achieve the learning and development in schools which “MI” promises, is that we have to have key individuals with certain roles involved. We have often heard the expression that “It takes a village,” well the implementation of “MI” is no exception. First of all, I would start with the school board of a district and I would want to get the “buy-in” by them on the philosophy and theory of “MI.” For those of you who have not thought about this “buy-in” factor in average public school districts, trust me it is VERY important. As such, it would be useful to first of all have all the school board members “educated” and convinced of the benefit of MI theory and practice. After that, I would advise that an “MI-literate” superintendent be found or trained who also appreciates the theory and practice of “MI.” Likewise, we then subsequently need building principals who are also “MI” trained. In-service training on “MI” for all school personnel will follow.
To have what can be called “individual-centered schools,” we also have to have the human and technological resources to do so. So one of the other things that we have to keep in mind when educating Chicano and Chicana students in the U.S, is that we have get away from what I call “mainstream thinking” in which we think of them as White, Anglo-Saxon, and/or mostly English dominant. Gardner informs us that “particular students will reveal strengths in quite different areas,” as compared to evaluating students for “general brightness.” Many Chicano/a students come to our schools having “a mestizaje” (or mixture) of affective and cognitive domain skills (see Part IV on this topic in this series). Carrying out a thorough bilingual bicultural pre-assessment of Chicano/a students, therefore, prior to implementing “MI” instruction, is a must if the teaching approaches are to fit the students. Remember my asking, “Which comes first?”
According to advocates of “MI,” (Ibid. P. 11-12) the implementation of MI is also going to require the involvement of four key roles of personnel (to be trained and selected). In the case of schools with large numbers of Chicano and Chicana students, it would behoove a school district to have bilingual bicultural Chicano-saavy personnel in this capacity—this is because having bilingual and bicultural personnel on board would be very helpful in carrying out the roles described below. These particular key positions are:
a. An Assessment Specialist—this person would “understand as sensitively and comprehensively as possible the abilities and interests of the students” in the schools;” Chicano and Chicana students exhibiting either assets or deficits would be helped accordingly; Gardner advices educators that “identification of weaknesses can be equally important,” especially if the school is to be able to come up with an alternative way to teach that child; (Ibid. P. 10)
b. A Student-Curriculum Broker—this person would match student profiles, goals, and interests to particular curricula and particular styles of learning; according to “MI” practice, this person’s job would be “to help match students’ profiles, goals, and interests to particular curricula and to particular styles of learning; (Ibid. P. 10)—not to mention English as a second language if needed and/or Spanish enrichment classes, for maintaining and strengthening students’ bilingual and bicultural competencies—you see to “MI,” being bilingual is seen as an asset, not a liability.
c. A School-Community Broker— this person would match students to learning opportunities in the wider community available to the school, such as apprenticeships, mentorships, and internships; (Ibid. P. 11); included in such opportunities might be after school volunteer work, and/or vocational and avocational opportunities during the school day; cooperation, for example, with other school districts where other MI strategies are being implemented with Chicano and Chicana students might also prove useful;
d. Master Teachers—these persons would supervise novice teachers, and most importantly, “seek to insure that the complex student-assessment and curriculum-community equation is balanced,” and if not balanced, to intervene and suggest ways to make things better. (Ibid. P. 11); a thorough English and Spanish language dominance assessment would also reveal whether Chicano and Chicana students would benefit from Spanish instruction until they could function successfully in an all-English classroom.
I know that what has been listed herein is a lot to consider, but these things can be planned for accordingly. In addition, there are a lot of resources available to school districts, such as professional development trainers and assessment strategies for each of the seven intelligences listed earlier. I have visited schools in which “MI” was first started in just one classroom in just one grade, then “MI” was moved to additional classrooms in the same building, then moved to multiple buildings, and so on, until a majority of the entire school district was involved. Just so you know: “MI” approaches are not just for gifted and talented student, rather, for all students.
Information resources about “MI” on the Internet include, but are not limited to, descriptions of other places in the U.S. which have adopted “MI” theory and practices. For example at the link: http://www.edutopia.org/mi-resources, there are a number additional links to actual programs nationwide which have implemented “MI” theory and practice (even for adult education programs). Herein is a list of some locations which have “MI” programs: The Key Learning Community is a successful K-12 public school in Indianapolis; Sharon Elementary School, in Charlotte, North Carolina, served as an example for Enota’s founders when they first opened its doors as an “MI” school in 2003; and the New City School which is a private “MI” school in St. Louis whose head-of-school, Thomas R. Hoerr, is author of an MI-themed book and numerous articles. He also publishes Intelligence Connections, the free e-newsletter for the Multiple Intelligences Network, sponsored by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), which includes articles by “MI” practitioners around the country and the world.
School districts need to keep that in mind that a trip of a thousand miles begins with just one step. They can start in a small way and then increase their involvement according to their means and comfort levels. School districts also know that “It takes a village,” so everyone can come on board gradually until all are at the same level of readiness. One thing I feel certain about, however, is that schools that implement “MI” will be better schools, and increase equal educational opportunity for Chicano and Chicana students in our public schools, as well as for all students.
Copyright 2015 by Margarito J. Garcia III, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. All photos are in the public domain.