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It’s Not What You Know, It’s How You Use It That Matters

Intelligence, says Howard Gardner, is the capacity to solve problems or make things that are valued by a culture. Gardner, the Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at Harvard, presented his observations about the many facets of intelligence to the TC community at the Virginia and Leonard Marx Lecture.

"IQ doesn't measure whether you can do anything," Gardner stated. "We all have different personalities and different kinds of minds because our experiences are different." Although these differences are acknowledged by educators, Gardner said that learning in school is pitched to the language/logic mind. Instead, he suggested that educators find out as much about each person's mind as possible. Then instruction should be taught in a manner that allows students to learn as effectively as possible. While he does not promote doing away with required curriculum, he also does not believe everyone has to learn that curriculum in the same way or show that they understand it in the same way.

"The question is what is intelligence and who decides that answer," Gardner explained. "The popular answer in our society is the Bell Curve view: that you are born with a single intelligence and there is nothing you can do about it."

Much of Gardner's latest research has explored what he calls the multiple intelligences of the individual. He defines them as linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal (understanding other people well), intrapersonal (understanding oneself), and naturalist. He has also explored existential knowledge, which looks at what he calls the big questions: where do we come from, what are human beings capable of, what terrible things are people capable of.

As Co-Director of Harvard Project Zero, Gardner and his colleagues have been working on the design of performance-based assessments, education for understanding and the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction and assessment. They take into consideration the different ways an individual learns through the various life stages. They also examine the different ways individuals perceive the world and express ideas. Project Zero researchers are applying the results of their research to help students learn to use knowledge to solve unexpected problems; to help them think critically and creatively; to relate classroom instruction to experiences students will have outside of school; to devise games and activities that appeal to a variety of learning styles.

"Most kids don't really understand," Gardner said. Children, he said, need to be able to apply what they have learned appropriately to a new situation. They need to be able to make use of the knowledge they have acquired.

Understanding is not knowing a little bit about many different things, he explained. "There is a problem with knowing facts but not understanding the framework and the discipline needed to discover or to apply them. You can't memorize facts to any purpose."

If individuals are to understand things that are meaningful to their lives, Gardner said, they need to be exploring topics that are consequential to what is important in the culture. "We need to study, in depth, things our culture thinks are very important," he noted. "To understand any of these topics, you have to be trained in the relevant disciplines."

The key understandings that Gardner believes children should be exposed to are truth, beauty, goodness and their opposites. He defines truth as science and folk knowledge, and falsity as things that are not true or that are uncertain. Beauty, he says, is found in those things admired in a culture because they live up to certain aesthetic standards. And when those standards are not met, they are considered ugly or the opposite of beauty. In defining what is good in a culture and not good, he stresses making it clear to children that it is more important to do good deeds and to desist from evil behavior.

He has focused on these key understandings in some of his recent studies on the relationship between cutting-edge work and a sense of social responsibility in the use and implications of that work. In 1999, his book on this research, The Well-Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand, will be published by Simon & Schuster.

Gardner has also done intensive case studies of exemplary creators and leaders, and has written a series of books which looks at these outstanding individuals. The titles of these books include Leading Minds, Creating Minds, and Extraordinary Minds. He has recently produced a video, Creativity & Leadership: Making the Mind Extraordinary, which represents the culmination of much of what he has written.

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