Not Every Child Is Secretly a Genius, an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Chris Ferguson, is an excellent bubble-bursting treatise on the “multiple intelligences” education theories of Howard Gardner that have been so much in vogue over the last 20 years as to have become accepted as truth within the educational establishment.
As much as I’m not sure that Ferguson is completely right, I’ve never been altogether sure Gardner’s theories represented more than a hope that our minds work differently than they do. And this is the crux of Ferguson’s argument about multiple intgelligences:
It’s “cool,” to start with: The list-like format has great attraction for introductory psychology and education classes. It also seems to jibe well with the common observation that individuals have particular talents. More important, especially for education, it implicitly (although perhaps unintentionally on Gardner’s part) promises that each child has strengths as well as weaknesses. With eight separate intelligences, the odds seem good that every child will be intelligent in one of those realms. After all, it’s not called the theory of multiple stupidities.
It would be wonderful to live in a world where we were all equally capable of achieving greatness in something. Indeed I’d say that’s the bedrock of my educational philosophy to date, and a good part of the underpinning of how I approach the world. But it’s good to be reminded that it’s a relatively recent model for intelligence, and one that might be based on a Utopian dream more than a practical reality. As Ferguson writes:
That is the root of the matter. Too many people have chosen to believe in what they wish to be true rather than in what is true. In the main, the motive is a pure one: to see every child as having equal potential, or at the very least some potential. Intelligence is a fundamentally meritocratic construct. There are winners and there are losers. A relative doofus may live a comfortable life so long as his or her parents are wealthy. However, clawing one’s own way out of abject poverty is best achieved with a healthy dose of both motivation and “g.”
As much as it pains me, I’ve a feeling Ferguson might be right about all this, and I’m left with the question: what to do about the doofuses?
(Oh, and just to be clear: my child is secretly a genius)