Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Shortchanging Our Students

If Johnny, who can’t read, has a teacher whose main goal is to convince him that he is smart, there is no telling what the positive impact of this approach would be upon Johnny. We, as educators, seldom think that all our students are intelligent. To think that they are all as intelligent as we, their teachers are, is unthinkable. Up until 1983, no one seriously mounted a challenge to the possibility that IQ did not effectively measure a person’s intelligence. If someone did, nobody was taking that person too seriously. It is widely known that the creation of Mr. Binet’s IQ test was seriously flawed, at best, and was specifically geared to protect and facilitate traditional schooling. Alfred Binet and his colleague (Binet & Simon, 1905), were asked by the Paris city fathers to devise a test that could be used to determine which students would succeed, and which ones would fail in the schools of Paris. On this test based in discrimination, most of our current academic tests are fashioned, including standardized tests, and many entrance tests such as the SAT, (Gardner, 1983).

It was Howard Gardner, (1983), in the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, who challenged the notion of IQ, and led the charge against Alfred Binet’s widely accepted IQ theory and practice. Not only did Gardner propose a new theory, he also had the research to support it. Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, (MI), suggests that all learners are intelligent. In fact, there are “multiple intelligences” beyond Linguistics and Mathematics, upon which Binet’s IQ tests, and traditional schooling are based. From the early beginnings of Gardner’s work, called Project Zero (Gardner, 1979), and Project Spectrum, (Feldman & Gardner, 1989; Malkus, et al, 1988; and Remus-Ford, et al, 1988), the aim was to assess learners’ “Intelligences” by the administration of a battery of tests involving fifteen or more activities. For example, the standard IQ test uses a linguistics/Mathematics approach involving pencil and paper. The Multiple Intelligences approach is a demonstration model that engages the learner in showing the outcomes of competencies, including writing and figuring.

Armstrong (1998), in a video on Multiple Intelligences, juxtaposed the effects of IQ testing and MI theory and practice. He stated that IQ had a monumental impact on education, by tracking, labeling, and separating learners into intellectual “haves’ and “have-nots.” Armstrong claimed, however, that the more advanced theory of Multiple Intelligences is one in which the human intellect is valued for its many ways of being “smart.” It invites society to embrace the notion that all students can learn effectively, and that giftedness rests in every child, giftedness that can be expressed in many ways.

It is appalling that after more than twenty years of research in MI theory and practice, traditional education has clung tenaciously to the age-old notion of IQ, while myriad students are subjected to outmoded and outdated processes and methodologies in most schools. School systems, such as that of Gloucester, Massachusetts, that have accepted MI as a better approach to teaching all children, are few and far between. There are many other systems that have never even heard of the MI theory and philosophy, although it takes not much more than the click of a computer mouse to open the door to this body of research.

Students, in general, love to demonstrate that they know, and can do, but many educators continue to use coercive methodologies that result in frustration on the part of both students and teachers. Our systems continue to be test-driven. The large majority of these tests are variants of Binet’s IQ tests, drawing from only two of Gardner’s eight intelligences, those of Linguistics and Mathematics.

We continue to pursue archaic methodologies that mainly involve teacher talk, ditto paper, student response to teacher-generated questions, and boring routines. Gardner, (1983), identified eight Intelligences in his MI theory, although he suggests that this is bay no means a complete list of all the Intelligences that may exist. The following are Gardner’s eight Intelligences: Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence, Intrapersonal Intelligence, Linguistic Intelligence, Mathematical Intelligence, Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence, the Naturalist Intelligence, and Spatial/Artistic Intelligence. It is interesting to note that the alpha listing of Gardner’s eight Intelligences has three of the newly identified Intelligences coming before the two that traditional schooling is based upon, and three coming after. Linguistic Intelligence and Mathematical Intelligence are at the center of the list. Inasmuch as this has no significance to any discussion of the theory, at least, not that I have heard, it is quite significant to this educator.

If we look at the progression of human development, as a child begins to react to, and learn his environment, Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence is of prime importance. A child uses his body as his first school, and if bodily sensations and movement are retarded, the child will be handicapped. As the child grows, reacting with its surroundings as well as with others is of utmost importance. Effective mothering of an infant will be exemplified in how that child interacts with others. When the child enters the formal schooling environment, interacting with others, classmates, teachers, is not optional. On the other side of Linguistic and Mathematical Intelligence comes Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence. We need not try to justify the importance of this Intelligence. One would think that a baby, lying on its back, would kick its legs and smile broadly when it hears music. If that did not happen, mommy would be thinking that something was wrong with her baby.

Of the eight intelligences that Gardner identified, initially, only two of them are acquired. The others come naturally. Linguistics and Mathematics are learned or acquired, while the others come built into the construct of the human organism. It is little wonder that most kids are suspicious of traditional schooling, to put it mildly.

I have, long ago, come to the conclusion that the majority of issues and problems that we face in the education of youngsters are adult issues and problems. Even if I had said all the issues and problems, I would challenge anyone to refute this notion. I think that I am in a good position to make this statement. I have occupied every significant position in developmental schooling, throughout my life, and have spent more than thirty-five years as a professional educator. I have been a student, a parent, a teacher, and administrator. I have tried to keep a straight face as I observe a Kindergarten teacher try to sell her brand of education to twenty-five or more youngsters that as many parents have dropped off at school on the first day. Lets go back to “Johnny” with whom we started this discussion.

The teacher is standing at the classroom door, faking a smile, as mommy finally gets Johnny up to the classroom door. His shoes are all scuffed up, because he has assumed all positions, on his way to the classroom. Mother is also scratched up, but she returns the teacher’s fake smile, and wishes her well. After five, or more minutes, both adults have gotten Johnny to remain with the teacher, mainly because Johnny sees about twenty more little people looking as uncomfortable as he is. Some of them were even laughing at him, and that is probably why Mommy and the teacher succeeded in getting him to stay, his pride is hurt. Johnny has decided that he doesn’t like “Teacher.” He wouldn’t mind fighting every last one of those kids, beginning with the ones who were laughing at him, earlier on. Johnny begins to plot his war strategy.

There is a body of material called Brain Research, which Teacher has not bothered to take a look at. If she had, she would have been better prepared to handle Johnny, and his cohorts. There is something called the “fight or flight” response. Johnny has resorted to that, even though he has never heard of it. Johnny, not having been in school before, is not in control of his brain just yet. As a matter of fact, his brain is in control of him. His brain, being “unschooled”, is serving its original purpose, which is to protect Johnny. So, Johnny is held hostage, by his brain from the inside, and by his teacher, from the outside.

His brain kicks into “fight or flight” mode. Flight is usually the first option. There is less chance of being hurt. That option is of no use to Johnny, however, and he has at least two good reasons for that decision. Number one, this bunch of twenty-five miserable people who are with him in this predicament, are not going to cooperate like when they are on the play ground. They may even laugh at him if he attempts to bust through the door. Number two; Johnny does not even know how he got to school. It wouldn’t make sense to start running. Where would he go? The choice of “flight” is no good. Option number two is “fight.” Johnny can fight, but the only person he has any reason to fight would be Teacher. This could be called a predicament, if Johnny only knew the word. Johnny’s brain is also in trouble. It has something at stake, Johnny’s protection, and agrees with Johnny that the choice of fight is not an attractive option. That kind of active resistance would only put Johnny in a whole mess of trouble. Johnny’s brain begins to smile. It doesn’t have “active resistance” in its memory bank but, somehow, “passive resistance” has shown up, somehow. Johnny is going to fight Teacher, tooth and nail, without laying a finger on her!

Teacher is also in a fighting mode. She knows that if she can’t subdue, and control these twenty-five urchins, she could be in for a lot of trouble. It is a pity that Teacher does not know anything about Multiple Intelligences. So, she is going to start out like every other teacher in the school, at least in Kindergarten through Second Grade. “Now, listen to me children. This is my classroom, and I am going to set the rules in here. You have only one seat in here, and you must sit in it at all times, unless I tell you to move. Keep your hands and feet to yourselves. Do not talk without putting up your hands, and wait until I recognize you.” Teacher really does not know anything about Multiple Intelligences!

Dr. Burnie Hines is an Educational Consultant. He also conducts workshops in the areas of Multiple Intelligences and Cooperative Learning. Dr. Hines can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] .

About the author

Dr. Burnie A. Hines