Are We Smart Enough?: Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and Education Theory

This article was inspired by a conversation I recently had with two caring educators from my daughter’s school.  I’ve always been of the strong belief that in order to properly educate young minds, there has to be more than just reciting of theory but a deep desire to make an actual impact on a person’s life and to awaken the spirit of the young towards discovering their own potential.

Instead of caging young impressionable minds we need educators whose passion is exactly that “to educate”, who understand and value the constant communication between Parent-Student-Educator and who allow and encourage young minds to expand their minds beyond the conditioned “box system” our current education seems to have fallen into.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Dr. Howard Gardner; he is a Development Psychologist and professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University.  His work has had tremendous impact on Education; his work has not “only been inspired from a desire to describe the world but from a desire to help create the conditions to change it”.

I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill. (Howard Gardner 1999: 180-181)


We all have witness our children display areas in which they are “talented” yet we fail at expanding beyond such talent due to preconceived ideas from old paradigms where our intelligence was only to be focus on our “talent”.  Any talent is worth expanding and pursuing, however any talent will flourish even more when a well rounded thinking pattern has been developed in all areas.

Having more than one daughter, I have had the privilege and challenge to witness my daughters display different styles of learning; not one of them is like the other. Where one has an easy time with numbers and traditional auditory learning the other needs a more tactile/abstract parable style of learning.  Unfortunately most of our current system is designed to label children with an intelligence test which does not identify the particular style of learning each person has. Most of these tests tend to reflect only one or two areas while dismissing everything else; sadly as a society we tend to label those children, which only affects them psychologically; thus, they start to create their own doom future.

I remember when I was in school, some kids were considered “stupid” “lazy” and so on, all because they were not getting A’s and B’s yet 20 years later some of the same kids who were bullied or teased turned out to be successful entrepreneurs, or excel at their careers.  On the other hand, some of the “smart” kids have done nothing with their lives.  A lot of how things unfolded for those people falls on the responsibility of us as parents.  Many parents instead of teaching  balance, deliver only more pressure on a young mind by constantly over protecting the child, constantly praising the child only by their academic achievement.  This see-saw is no different academically than it is morally; same concept can be applied.  I have witness children who have been raised to follow orders and were praised for being “well behaved and pleasing”  later on they turned out to be adults who are critical, non lenient and who exhibit much more psychological troubles than the child who was considered “wild” and “difficult”.  Much of these  tends to happen when we as parents succumb to our false ego; in which without full consciousness; parents tend to live through their children.  Using their children’s achievements; whether academic or moral; as a badge of honour to reflect how well they have done.  Instead as parents we need to constantly be checking with ourselves on our real motivations for what we do  with  and for our children.

I am now going to  share with you a short story based on the real life of a very famous Neurosurgeon; Mr. Benjamin Carson.  Benjamin as a child was very poor. Ben, his brother Curtis and his mother were abandoned by his father and were left to fend for themselves when they were already struggling with poverty.  Ben lived in Detroit in a very dangerous neighborhood, in an city with an already violent history.  Ben was considered the “dummy” “the stupid one in class”; imagine what it would be like to everyday have to see others look at you as if you were nothing but a stupid person, a waste of time.  It would affect almost anyone; specially a young person; to have to carry such a tag. Imagine the tension, the anger, the frustration; all of this lead Ben to pick up a knife and tried to hurt himself but thankfully things didn’t work out the way he thought they would.  At that moment Ben suffered a mental crisis/mental breakdown and came to the conclusion that he had to do something different but he had no idea what or how to go about it.

Let me remind everyone that most children in North America  spends about 7- 8 hrs a day either watching TV or on their device watching content which teaches nothing and most parents mostly do not monitor.  Ben at that time was no exception, however his mother told him that she had had a revelation and that what they all had to do was to read.  Ben’s family didn’t read much, since they had no money to buy books they started going to the public library.  Ben started falling in love with nature; animals, minerals and vegetables.  One day his science teacher held a black rock on his hand and ask the class if they knew what it was.  Ben knew the answer however he lacked the confidence to say anything as he believed himself to be stupid.  He then waited for the smartest kids to answer but no one did. He then waited for those a little less “smart” but whom he believed were better than him, yet no answer came. Ben then lifted up his hand and his whole class turned to look at him with sarcasm.  His teacher could have said “Ben you don’t know this” and simply dismiss him, instead he encouraged Ben to talk.  He asked Ben what the name of the rock was and Ben replied “it is an obsidian rock”.  His teacher agreed and Ben could witness how the faces of his classmates went from sarcasm to shock.  His teacher could have simply thanked Ben and kept explaining things, however he asked Ben if there was anything else he knew about Obsidian Rocks, which of course Ben did!  He started giving a lecture about Obsidian rocks while his classmates looked at him in awe.

Now Ben who was considered the stupid one; this child who had a very hard childhood in poverty and whom had experienced trials; experienced a very profound change within him.  This change was so profound that he graduated number one in his school. He ended up as number one in all Detroit and was given an scholarship by Yale and is now  the best neurosurgeon in the world; Dr. Ben Carson.

Now here we should ask ourselves how is it possible that we label intelligence with a test. How can we then explain how a person who apparently was condemned by his “lack of Intelligence” according to the system, turned out to be the best Neurosurgeon in the world; the person who has the most experience with some of the most complex cases ever seen.  That is why years ago the concept of intelligence started to change but we are not there yet, hence I bring to you Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

Intelligence has become something else, not something predetermined.  Scientists no longer see Intelligence as something some are born with and some are not.  The concept of intelligence has been reinvented and is seen no longer as an absolute but as a window which one could open or keep shut. A window which once is opened, you start to discover new worlds, new views; you start to associate and create.

Howard Gardner years ago started a project to understand intelligence and he found something extraordinary; there is not “One” intelligence but “Nine”.  This means if someone explains to you things in your intelligence language, you can understand them no matter how complex you think the subject may be. 

There are people who need to see things in a sequential manner; logical math.  There are people who need to see a global/rounded image; spatial visual intelligence. There are people who need to be moving, who need to touch and control things; kinesthetic intelligence.  There are people who need to listen; musical intelligence.  There are people who need to feel connected to another human being; interpersonal intelligence. There are people who in order to understand a concept need to become introspective and reflect; intrapersonal intelligence. There are people who in order to understand things need to be in contact with nature; naturist intelligence. There are people who in order to awaken their desire to understand and learn they need to see the bigger picture, the reason, the goal, what is behind; transcendental intelligence.

Discovering the 9 languages of intelligence is something monumental because most human beings have very little security and confidence on their capacity to learn new things and expand their mind.  How many times when confronted with a new project do we question ourselves yet if we understood our own unique language we would relax more and look forward to new learning experiences.

The key to remodeling our education system is to learn that if a child is not learning at the same rate is not because he or she isn’t intelligent enough but rather because we are not talking in his or her specific language.  

To learn something new is to enter the world of uncertainty and we all experience some level of fear when that happens.  Because of its unpredictability we all experience some level of fear or another when we have to let go and discover new territory.   That is why it makes no sense to have learning based on coercion or obligation but what makes total sense is to have education based on the need to learn and in inspiration. 

When a person; regardless of age; says “I need to learn this” (new technology, driving, language, etc.) and has the resolve to do so, that person moves forward and learns the new skill.   At that moment the whole anatomy/physiology of his or her brain start to change.

The process of learning has different well  known phases:

The first is trial and error. Let’s take a kid who is given a new phone. At first he has no idea how to use the new apps and whatever other gadgets there may be, yet after trial an error the child starts to develop a confidence on his own abilities until one day he has mastered it; the same theory can be applied to any new skill.

When a human being is inspired to learn and makes the commitment necessary to learn, his brain will start to change.  There are a series of processes which have been documented in children as much as in adults; that is why the reinvention of the brain is a reality regardless of age.

The second phase of learning comes once you have committed to the beautiful process of learning.  It is then that the blood flow in your brain is augmented to parts of your cerebral cortex; specifically to the prefrontal cortex; located behind your forehead and above your eyes.  When there is more blood flow to our brain we start to see with clarity, we learn faster and we become more creative.  It has been shown that increased blood flow increases neuroplasticity; our neurons connect with each other even more, obsolete connections are severed and new ones are made. This is absolutely amazing as the more healthy neuro connections we have, the higher our abilities to learn, to be inspired, to create, to enjoy life.

Lastly it has been proven that adults can generate new neurons.  Neurons cannot reproduce but they can regenerate. Neurons regenerate from stem cells–pluripotent cells–located in the cavities of the brain. They can migrate between 500 and 1000 neurons from the cerebral ventricles to the hippocampus and within 21 days those stem cells have become neurons–fascinating! The hippocampus is not only fundamental in learning but it controls the panic that comes from the center of the amygdala and is very involved with a hormone we all have heard before which is dopamine. Dopamine gives you a feeling of curiosity and exploration.

If committed in 21 days a person can learn a new skill quite well. In 21 days if committed a person can change a pattern or habit. (This does not apply to people with severe traumas as the neuro connections already made take longer to break and to start new ones; however in 21 days a person if committed can be well onto reprogramming the mind towards healthier attitudes, thoughts and behaviors).

If all human beings have been gifted intelligence to learn new things, what is hindering the process?  The process of learning is being hindered by our lack of believe on  our own abilities, which means we are still stuck in the old paradigm where we treat our brain as hardware rather than software. It is being hinder by a society which is infuse with so much information out there but most of it has very little value. It is being hinder by the overuse of technology and little exploration of our minds and bodies through reading, exercising, meditating, dancing, singing; instead we are killing our arts departments and infusing only one style of learning which not only limits many people but instead rather than create free thinkers; leaders of a better world; we are creating robots who can support any cause without knowing what it is or what is behind, simply because it was presented charismatically or passionately.   

We need to embrace the discovery of our unique intelligence language.  We need to support those educators who understand this and who care for children as more so than just another number.  We need as parents to learn to give up the punitive feelings we imposed on our children when we punish them rather than teaching them that consequences to their actions are not punishment rather learning experiences.

Children need to be taught that when a consequence transpired is not because they didn’t listen to us but rather because all life moves by the rule of action/consequence–if they chose an action which violated the house rules, violated the life of other’s or their own, consequences are implemented or they come naturally through life experiences; depending on each case.

We need to teach our children we are here to guide them and have no desire to control them.  Teaching them about action-consequence teaches them to learn and appreciate their own power; consequences then become learning experiences which teach them about self responsibility.

We as parents need to stop taking credit for the achievements of our children as if they were our own.  We are our own people, our guidance or lack of,  may have an impact; however the victory or failure is not ours to take.  If our child fails we should be supportive, this doesn’t mean take the blame and the responsibility; it means being empathetic yet always propelling them forward– this requires us to stop over protecting them by always giving them everything.  If our children succeed as parents we should be proud he or she had the courage and the strength to commit to whatever the goal was.  We should celebrate their accomplishment and stop trying to be in the spot light when it doesn’t belong to us.

By not always taking the responsibility away from our children and by always being supportive on things which will benefit their self expansion, we are helping them develop resilient minds.  A human being with a resilient mind/attitude is exactly what this world needs to move towards a better place. Let’s not forget–Love is not what you say, love is what you do.

“Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.”
― Ben Carson, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story



By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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