Towards More Inclusive Education: From Multiple Intelligences to a Passion for Learning
Jie-Qi CHEN, Seana MORAN and Howard GARDNER (eds.): Multiple Intelligences Around the World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009)
Angela DUCKWORTH: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016)
How can teaching formulas be found that definitively leave behind the pedagogical limitations of recent years? What new pathways does the current literature offer us for tackling the educational needs and demands of the future? All over the world, in parallel with the proliferation of quantitative indicators of results and comparative evaluations between countries, there has been a blossoming of theoretical endeavours that seek to lay down the bases for a different kind of education that is broader in its reach, methods and scope, as well as to unravel the secrets of academic success. The first current provides the context for psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, explained in the book Multiple Intelligences Around the World, co-edited with Jie-Qi Chen and Seana Moran. Belonging to the second current is the book by psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Although these are two contributions to the subject with very different focuses, reading them together can be an enriching and highly gratifying experience for anyone interested in the subject of education and especially in reducing social inequality from childhood. In this sense, the central theses of the two books mutually reinforce and complement each other, while offering inspiration and possible keys for a more inclusive education.
In Multiple Intelligences Around the World the reader is introduced to the theory of multiple intelligences, which distinguishes between nine types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential. The central contribution of this work is the illustration of how this theory allows us to go beyond traditional methodologies and techniques for assessment – based on linguistic and logical-mathematical skills – in very diverse contexts. With this in mind it describes how the theory has been applied in different schools, social spheres and educational phases across several continents. The fundamental lesson to be learned from this work is that making the effort to cater for the multiplicity of capabilities of students reaps a dual benefit. Firstly, better attention and educational integration of students is achieved, as the range of intelligences contemplated is sufficiently broad for all of them to have some kind of capability in which they excel, and which may be identified, strengthened or used as a starting point for stimulating others. Secondly, the entire educational process is enriched, as expanding the range of skills that are assessed and encouraged requires a greater range of teaching and learning tools and of fields for the practical application of the knowledge learned. Simultaneously, the dedication and creativity of teachers is given continual impetus, as they find themselves forced to search for techniques that effectively cater for all this variety and for the different skills and needs of students.
However, the book lacks a critical dimension: it barely touches on the difficulties that may be found along the way. The examples offered are success stories and some of the problems raised by applying the theory are only mentioned or discussed superficially. For example, there is no explanation of how application of the theory demands a considerable investment in terms of resources, if the aim really is to properly identify each student’s skills and strengthen them to the maximum, while avoiding any risk of pigeonholing or excessive compartmentalisation of knowledge. Nor does it question the fact that the method seems to work particularly well in small schools, with middle or middle-upper class students, and at early educational phases, where the intensity of teachers’ dedication and even of family involvement are key to obtaining good results, more than the educational method in itself. Even so, the book has an evident strong point: it centres the debate on the possibilities that are opened up by catering for a diversity of aptitudes and spheres of knowledge and personal development. The theory of multiple intelligences, as presented in this volume, would simplify in practice the process of individualisation of education, as it offers simple pathways to access the multiple capabilities of each student and, once identified, tries to stimulate them. This favours the self-esteem, self-confidence and learning process of those children who do not grasp conventional learning and assessment methodologies and who, generally, do not receive the recognition of many of their capabilities nor of their potential.
This final point connects in a particularly interesting way with book by Angela Duckworth, who, through systematic analysis of different types of data and scientific studies in the spheres of psychology, aims to identify the keys to excellence in diverse contexts, with a special emphasis on academic performance. Duckworth begins by explaining how sustained effort has been revealed to be essential for acquiring and perfecting skills. Over the course of the book she makes deeper inroads into what this persevering effort means, examining its relationship with what is habitually known as talent. Finally, she identifies its defining characteristics: high, well-defined targets, as well as the interest in the activity in question and the pleasure obtained from it. The author’s fundamental conclusion is that innate aptitudes and IQ are less important than perseverance in practice and in study, above all when faced with the difficulties that emerge from the passion for what one does. These skills, far from being something that is given and static, are highly malleable and sensitive to development and stimulation.
According to Duckworth, the passion that leads to resistance, constancy, personal self-improvement and success – i.e., learning – can be encouraged in different ways. Two of the most important are the cultivation of own interests and stimulation from teachers, mentors and other significant reference people. It is precisely this question that enables the two books to enter into a dialogue from which we can obtain inspiration and practical teachings. On an individual level, Duckworth’s book offers very diverse examples in this respect. One particularly illustrative example is the story of a scientific researcher considered from a very early age to have learning difficulties, to the point that he ended up re-taking whole academic years at a special education centre. His future changed radically when one particular teacher was able to identify his capabilities, show confidence in them and thus awaken in him a motivation to learn. This process of transformation began in a musical area in which the child showed a certain talent, and subsequently that talent expanded to other fields, moved by the boy’s growing self-confidence, his progressive interest in learning new things and his desire to show that he could outdo himself. And the work edited by Chen, Moran and Gardner offers interesting demonstrations of very similar processes on a collective level, illustrating how, at schools characterised by their low performance, special education centres or even in specific programmes for high-ability children, learning can substantially improve after making the necessary adjustments for detecting, recognising and developing the diversity of skills of each student.
The theory of multiple intelligences, applied as recommended in this latter book, by expanding the range of disciplines and skills that must be within the sights of teaching staff, would precisely make it easier for all students to have the opportunity to find out what their real passion is and devote themselves to it. Simultaneously, it would encourage teachers to really observe each student and their capabilities and talents, beyond the narrow confines of conventional indicators and also opening up the door to the necessary stimulus for acquiring interest and perseverance to students who without this attention would end up outside the system. This inclusive potential, ultimately a catalyst for reducing many inequalities, is present as a cross-cutting theme in both books and this is one of the aspects connecting them. Taking this as a starting point for a reflection on current education systems could provide a new angle for their reform, leading to an education that is not only broader, richer and better adapted to the new times, but also truly a promoter of equal opportunities for all.