What should be the basic purpose of education? A good career – indeed, one better than one's peers – may be the answer for many. There is intense pressure on every student to be "better" than his fellow human beings. What kind of humans and what kind of a world are we creating this way?
However, alternative education thinkers strongly believe that the core approach of education must have goals beyond lucrative careers and professional success – these should be mere by-products of a deeper understanding of the world in all its multitudinous aspects. For this, education must be an all-encompassing yet sustainable learning process that ultimately helps one to comprehend and explore the inner layers and truths of oneself as well as the world. This understanding of education also takes into account that students do not all learn the same way. Therefore, educators should develop teaching methodologies in such a way that students find it easy to develop their intelligences, sensibilities and personality in multiple ways. This is precisely where Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences makes great sense.
Widely regarded as a paradigm-shifter in developmental psychology, Gardner advocates the application of different methodologies and exercises to reach out to all students since they come from diverse backgrounds. Gardner has identified two key components of this strategy: individuation and pluralization. "No longer will we have to teach everyone the same way," he says. The process of individuation helps teachers assess the strengths and weaknesses of each student and tailor teaching modules on the basis of his/her potential to grasp, or absorb, knowledge.
Gardner's central tenet is that intelligence comes in a variety of forms. He has identified nine broad types of intelligence: verbal-linguistic intelligence, logical-mathematical, spatial-visual, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist and existential (read about them in detail here).
Of these, linguistic intelligence and logical intelligence are directly connected with the kinds of learning propagated in schools. The next three – musical, bodily-kinaesthetic and spatial-visual intelligences – are associated with the arts. Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences refer to the ability to understand others and the self respectively, while naturalist intelligence refers to the ability to recognize and categorize various elements in nature. Existential nature refers to the capacity to engage with deeper questions of existence and purpose.
Gardner once wrote:
"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."
So, the point here is all about understanding who we are and synthesize it with ourselves, preferably for the greater good of the world.
His allusion to morality brings to mind what noted Waldorf Education researcher Miriam Haenen says (see p23 of the pdf):
"Moral values guide a human being towards healthy development of his personality. Morality is deeply connected with the inner human beauty. We all know that we can't learn about real inner morality with our head, with rules, or cold moral stories. Morality in its true form, the one which can change the world, comes from within.''
Gardner's research primarily focuses on the urgent need to make a swing from mere "head" learning to more holistic learning. Miriam Haenen observes:
"When we take linguistic intelligence as an example, the grammar and all that we learn is only the dead skeleton of a language. When we work on bodily, spatial, or musical intelligence, the language starts to speak up, even sing. It makes us warm, and we connect with it."
The primary thing that educators need to do is to create an ecosystem capable of developing multiple intelligences in children. Also, teachers should note that these multiple intelligences do not operate independently, they are dependent and as they develop, they complement each other.