Reflections on the “Controversy” of Multiple Intelligences

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Recently, I’ve heard  raging arguments between those in the Multiple Intelligences (MI) camp and those who don’t think MI is a viable theory. I want to weigh in. And if nobody reads this post, I’ll still have had the cathartic experience of writing it!

To my way of thinking, MI is an interesting idea that at first glance aligns with our American “we’re number one” and “everybody gets a trophy” perspective. It seems to advance the notion that everyone is “gifted,” and that schools are not always equipped to recognize that “gift.” On the other hand,  Visser, Ashton, and Vernon (2006)  and, to some extent, Fasko (2001) argue that Gardner’s theory is not verifiable and that there are holes in it. I wonder if the debate isn’t more a disagreement over semantics (and possibly miscommunication) than it is over science. I would advocate for using the term that Tirri (2013) introduces: sensitivities (rather than intelligences). In Gardner’s (2006) response to the Vissir article, he makes the point that she and her colleagues attempted to measure MI in a manner that runs counter to its very premise. On his web site, he points out that he never believed in the validity of assessing or measuring MI, and that it is compatible with the concept of g.

Where does that leave me? Basically, pondering a practical example. I read Frames of Mind and introduced the concept to my class of gifted 7th graders many years ago. I was in a school setting where there was a lot of resentment from both students and teachers regarding the idea of separate classes for gifted students. One of my students, Pam, was so drawn to the idea that she chose MI as her independent study project that year. She read the book, developed a way to teach other 7th graders about the theory, devised a way to help students explore their “interests and intelligences,” and presented her research to all of the other 7th grade advisory classes. Did she have a psychometrically sound instrument for surveying the other students? Absolutely not. Did she completely grasp all the concepts in the book? Probably not. But she did have a profound effect on the entire 7th grade. The 7th graders did not walk away from Pam’s presentation believing they were gifted, but they did walk away believing they had strengths and weren’t the “GT rejects.” Pam—who just started her 6th year of teaching school—tells me it helped shape who she is as a teacher too.

Gardner himself stated that the term “intelligence” isn’t as important to him as long as all eight identified qualities are called the same term, so as not to raise the level of importance of one above the others. Maybe it’s time to bury the word along with the hatchet and find the common talking points.



Fasko, D. (2001). An analysis of multiple intelligences theory and its use with the gifted and talented. Roeper       Review, 23(3), 126-130.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (2006). On failing to grasp the core of MI theory: A response to Visser et al. Intelligence, 34(5), 503-505. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2006.04.002

Tirri, K. (2013). Multiple intelligences: Can they be measured? Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling,, 55(4), 438-461.
Visser, B. A., Ashton, M. C., & Vernon, P. A. (2006). Beyond g: Putting multiple intelligences theory to the test. Intelligence, 34(5), 487-502. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2006.02.004
Kay Shurtleff

Kay Shurtleff

Although my day job is educational consultant for GT/Advanced Academics and ELAR, I also spend ridiculous amounts of down time drinking tea and reading, blogging, tweeting, and playing with language. Writing is a natural outlet, mode of thinking, form of entertainment, and illuminator for me. I'm working on a PhD in gifted education right now, and I appreciate having this forum in which to kick around ideas. Thanks for stopping by G/T-time!

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One Response to “Reflections on the “Controversy” of Multiple Intelligences”

  1. A large percentage of of what you point out happens to be supprisingly appropriate and it makes me wonder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this with this light previously. Your piece truly did switch the light on for me personally as far as this subject matter goes. Nevertheless there is just one position I am not too comfortable with so whilst I try to reconcile that with the actual main theme of the issue, let me see exactly what all the rest of your visitors have to say.Nicely done.

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