Multiple Intelligences

I’ve been playing around with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in my mind. First, they are the basis for Color Me Smart, my current children’s book manuscript, which I may (or may not) publish in 2012. Second, as I’ve been reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I couldn’t help trying to categorize Jobs within the eight intelligence types.

When I’m working on my book, it is with a degree of certainty — children need to be recognized and encouraged for all kinds of abilities. Teaching the multiple intelligences framework to children and their caregivers should help us, as a society, to be more appreciative of children’s innate strengths. Further, we could then be expected to encourage a greater degree of excellence in education and production. But there is also a degree of uncertainty. Many children are multiply intelligent, and to typecast them could potentially limit others’ understanding of them. I especially felt this when casting children as people- or self-smart when I had already perceived them as another kind of smart.

When reading the Jobs book, I felt an even greater degree of uncertainty. It was almost the opposite of what I was feeling with my child characters. I never doubted that Jobs was smart. But, what kind of smart? He certainly didn’t have interpersonal intelligence (people smart), yet even within this realm he ultimately succeeded by repeatedly forming and leading what he called an “A team.”

So what are multiple intelligences and where does Jobs fit? This is an especially intriguing question given Isaacson’s conclusion (p. 566): “Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power.”

According to Kac, what most geniuses have is “ordinary genius,” the kind that most of us might observe, “I could do that if only I were better at …” But the magician genius is such that we can’t fathom how the end result came about. Jobs consistently expected the seemingly impossible and made it happen. He didn’t achieve it himself; he led others to do it for him.

In rethinking Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, I conclude that we are broadening our definition of smart or intelligence within the realm of the ordinary. And, I still think that’s a good place to start. We need to recognize word, music, math, picture, body, people, self, and nature smart in children, but maybe there is more. Just as I’ve never liked the federal definition of giftedness because it positions academic ability, intellectual ability, creativity, leadership, and artistic ability as parallel categories — and they are not, so magician genius does not seem to parallel multiple intelligences. Creativity and intuitive leaps must cross them all. Jobs had a talent for recognizing talent in others and bringing them together such that their individual abilities became a part of the whole. Together they fostered his magician genius. His magician genius crossed all aspects of excellence required in the design and engineering of the products for which he is known.

I wonder if Gardner is playing around with the concept of magician genius?

 

 

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3 responses to “Multiple Intelligences

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  2. Reblogged this on Overexcitable and commented:
    I cannot see Gardner’s ideas as adding any real value to understanding intelligence, as there is a marked difference between intelligence (cognitive abilities) and areas of strength. As you have observed, people with multiple strength areas are disserved by the notion that they should have only one or two, and that all have equal value. It certainly does not seem to be that way to me, as I rate myself (oh, the methodology flaws!) above 8/10 in at least 3 areas, and above 6 in all but two. Also, let’s not forget that there’s no good research that support Gardner’s idea (that’s why I insist on calling it an idea rather than a theory).

    I agree that Steve Jobs was a genius, but I find the term “magician genius” offensive, to tell the truth. Instinctive imaginative leaps at unexpected moments is not uncommon among people with above-average cognitive abilities (normally called “gifted”, of which there is a category that is simply called “genious”). That’s just the way such brains work. Instead of following the more common “highway system” way of thinking, gifted people’s thought processes are more like the internet. It’s that simple. Do we really need to mess it up by adding multiple “intelligences” and “geniouses”?

  3. I cannot see Gardner’s ideas as adding any real value to understanding intelligence, as there is a marked difference between intelligence (cognitive abilities) and areas of strength. As you have observed, people with multiple strength areas are disserved by the notion that they should have only one or two, and that all have equal value. It certainly does not seem to be that way to me, as I rate myself (oh, the methodology flaws!) above 8/10 in at least 3 areas, and above 6 in all but two. Also, let’s not forget that there’s no good research that support Gardner’s idea (that’s why I insist on calling it an idea rather than a theory). I agree that Steve Jobs was a genius, but I find the term “magician genius” offensive, to tell the truth. Instinctive imaginative leaps at unexpected moments is not uncommon among people with above-average cognitive abilities (normally called “gifted”, of which there is a category that is simply called “genious”). That’s just the way such brains work. Instead of following the more common “highway system” way of thinking, gifted people’s thought processes are more like the internet. It’s that simple. Do we really need to mess it up by adding multiple “intelligences” and “geniouses”?

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