It’s not how intelligent you are that matters,says Dr Howard Gardner. Rather, what really matters is how you are intelligent. Howard Gardner is an eminent psychologist who gave us the theory of Multiple Intelligences, and is now working on an even bigger topic; what it means to be good.
Howard Gardner was born in 1943, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His parents had fled Nazi Germany before the war. He was a scholarly and musically able student and in 1961, he entered Harvard College to study Social Relations, gaining his AB in 1965. After a year spent studying Philosophy and Sociology at the London School of Economics, Gardner returned to Harvard University to study for a PhD in Social Psychology.
In 1967, during his doctoral studies, Gardner joined the new Project Zero research team at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as a research assistant. He has remained a part of that project throughout his career, becoming a director and now Senior Director of the project. As a major research centre and intellectual powerhouse for researchers into education, it has been a superb base for much of Gardner’s research and thinking.
In 1979, Gardner was among a number of Harvard researchers who collaborated in the Project on Human Potential. This opportunity led directly to Gardner fully developing and publishing the theory he is best known for. That theory is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which he published in full, in 1983, with his book, Frames of Mind. This model has been widely welcomed in educational circles, although it has also been criticised, especially by some psychologists and researchers into intelligence. We covered multiple intelligences in an earlier article.
Gardner’s ample academic career is marked by hundreds of articles (both scholarly and popular), around 30 books, dozens of awards, a CV (dated 2012) that runs to 87 pages (!) and steady progress up the academic career ladder:
- 1971-72: Post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School, into Aphasia
- 1972-86: Lecturer at Harvard
- 1986-98: Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
- 1998- now: John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
In 1996, along with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner co-founded The GoodWork Project – now The Good Project. This collaboration researches into the meaning of good work, effective collaboration, digital citizenship, and civic participation. It sits within Harvard’s Project Zero.
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences continues to dominate his reputation, and justly so. Wherever you sit on the scale of critic to convert, it has clearly had an impact on education in many places. And whether the model turns out to have an underpinning in the neural structure of our brains or not, the over-arching principle – that people have different abilities in different areas – is hard to deny. If that means we are better at valuing people for their various talents, rather than deprecating their lack of ability in one or two arenas valued by a selective system, that must be a good thing.
And Gardner continues to weigh in on many big debates in educational theory; not least the nature versus nurture debate. I suppose the biggest critique of Gardner’s approach – particularly in his work on Multiple Intelligences – is his focus on observation over experimentation. Much of his analysis results from careful intellectual (and therefore subjective) analysis of observation. But careful is the operative word. For many years, he has resisted wrapping new intelligences into his framework of eight – despite much advocacy from varying quarters. he does not find their cases compelling enough. However, his criteria are not clear and do not seem to have any testable, quantitative under-pinning.
The Good Project
In The Good Project, Gardner and his co-workers are interested to understand what makes ‘good’ work, ‘good’ education and so on. In this, he seems to be returning – with psychological and sociological methods – to the Greek fascination with what makes a good life.
Their conclusions can be summed up in three words. Being good in all the endeavours they have studied requires:
Interestingly to me, the first two very much echo the ideas Csikszentmihlyi developed in his theory of Flow.
Howard Gardner at TEDx in 2015
Here is Howard Gardner, ranging across his two primary interests; multiple intelligences, and what makes good work. You will see he refers to the work of Angela Duckworth.
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