The purpose of this paper is to explore Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences. I will focus on spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences and how linguistic intelligence has an underlying effect on the other intelligences. Spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences would seem to be very distant from linguistic intelligence, however I believe that they are more similar then one might expect.
Spatial intelligence can be loosely defined as the ability to manipulate and recreated the physical work in ones mind. Artists often use this intelligence as they take an actual object and are able to manipulate it onto a canvas or piece of paper. Many IQ tests have a section that tests the ability of a person in their use of block design. Students who excel in spatial intelligence have the ability to recreate within their mind the things that they see visually. Gardner states, “The left hemisphere of the brain has, over the course of evolution, been selected as the pre-eminent site for linguistic processing, the right hemisphere of the brain, and in particular the posterior portions of the right hemisphere, proves to be the site most crucial for special processing” (Gardner, p.181). Gardner is trying to show how separate in the brain spatial and linguistic intelligence really are.
By isolating the intelligences, Gardner focuses on the idea of savants and brain damage to prove his theory that the intelligences are totally separate. Eliminating part of the brain would still allow for someone to be successful and intelligent at spatial abilities. His idea is that even if a person lost their ability to speak or the ability to use their hands, that their other intelligences could possibly still work at a high level. I agree with his theory, however I think the intelligences overlap more then he may believe. Linguistic intelligence seems to have a basis in spatial intelligence also. Many students might do just fine being able to read a word problem and then form the design in their head. Gardner gives an example, “Take a square piece of paper, fold it in one half, then fold it twice again in half. How many squares exist after this final fold?” (Gardner, p.171). This idea shows how linguistic intelligence can be used when dealing with a student who has a greater spatial intelligence. Even without the student physically being able to fold the piece of paper they could still solve the problem due to their linguistic intelligence. Gardner shows this idea as he talks about people having distinct separate intelligences, but that each intelligence has the ability to overlap with another.
I also decided to talk about his theory of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence because I feel this intelligence goes together well with spatial intelligence. Both of these intelligences are educated best by going away from the traditional teaching methods of reading and writing. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is the ability for a person to use their body to solve a problem. This can be seen in many athletes and other people who are very active. Some people are born with a higher bodily-kinesthetic intelligence then others. Tests on reaction time have shown that some people are born with almost superhuman reaction time ability. This reaction time allows them to hit a baseball with such success that cannot be taught. Parts of this intelligence can be learned by studying similar to some of the more the academic intelligences, however bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is not viewed as an academic intelligence. Wayne Gretzky said, “Nine out of ten people think what I do is instinct…. It isn’t. Nobody would ever say a doctor had learned had profession by instinct: yet in my own way I’ve spent almost as much time studying hockey as a med student puts in studying medicine” (Gardner, p.231). Both a hockey player and a surgeon rely on their body to perform at a high level. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is just not brute force but the ability to read what is happening, and then adapt. In football, a player will tackle another player, although before that happens the tackling player must read the play to get a path take on the ball carrier. A surgeon can have perfect skills in using their hands to operate but they also need the ability to learn the correct procedures. These ideas show that a person can be above average in more then one intelligence and that is in fact fairly common.
The traditional way of teaching is through reading and writing that puts an emphasis on linguistic intelligence. Gardner’s theory is to separate the intelligences by showing that even a person who loses the ability to use part of their brain will still be able to function at a high level at some other intelligences. Gardner points out that he believes the intelligences are separate, but that they rarely operate separately and more often then not there are several intelligences working together. This is how linguistic intelligence is so important to the overall learning of a student. Most tests such as IQ tests put an emphasis on how well a person does on verbal section of the test. Gardner said, “I have already noted that many retarded children display a surprising ability to master language… Even more striking are those rare children who, despite retardation or autism, prove able to read at an astonishingly early age” (Gardner, p. 84-85). This is apparent when talking about a surgeon who loses the ability to use their hands and so they cannot operate on patients anymore. They may not have the ability to physically do the operation anymore but they can still instruct someone else to do the surgery. This surgeon has lost their ability to use their hands but their brain is still intact so they can use their linguistic intelligence to instruct another person to perform the operation.
Gardner does not think linguistic intelligence is more important than any of the other intelligences, but I believe that linguistic intelligence sets the basis for the other intelligences. Without this intelligence the student will not be able to understand what that teacher is trying to convey in class. Language is important for the student to get through school, however a student could get though school without fully realizing their full spatial intelligence. Linguistic intelligence allows a student to gain the ability to study the concepts and then apply them to the other intelligences such as bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. One cannot expect someone to just learn all the intricate details of boxing and then to go into the ring and win a title. This can only happen with some intelligence that is born within the person. Intelligences are within everyone but it is hard for a person to know exactly what intelligence they posses the strongest.
Howard Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences stems from his belief that each person has different intelligences that they posses. These intelligences are inherently separate due to the fact that because of brain damage, a person can lose an intelligence while still being able to perform at a high level on other intelligences. Gardner does not believe that linguistic intelligence is more important then the others, however in our society we put such a great emphasis on linguistic intelligence. A student can fall behind in their linguistic development and due to our societies testing and basis in teaching the student might not attain high grades. This does not mean the student is not smart, it just means that they might excel at a different type of intelligence. Overall, Gardner explains how each person has many different forms of intelligence that they could be above average in.
Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind, the theory of multiple intelligences.