Saturday, February 2, 2019

E = mc2: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

INTELLIGENCE — Photo by David Bruce, used under Creative Commons License. (Inscription carved by Roger Babson at Dogtown Common, Gloucester, Massachusetts, about 1930)

Presented to the Club by David Noyes on Monday evening, November 26, 2018

NEWS FLASH from the front page of the Boston Globe May 21, 2018:

“Massachusetts ponders hiring a computer to grade MCAS essays. Each year, students generate more than six million essays requiring a small army of graduate students, educators, and other professionals to read and score them — a laborious task that takes most of the summer. In an effort to speed up the delivery of the MCAS results to schools and families, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is exploring the option of replacing human test scorers with a computer program. This technology would help the state deliver the results in the summer instead of the fall so that schools could analyze the results and make any necessary adjustments before the school year begins. “

Yes, that’s correct. It’s possible that no human eye would ever see a student’s effort. Can you imagine the Board of Trustees of the Nobel Prize Committee submitting their choices for the Literature Prize to the same algorithm!

Last year Martin gave an intriguing, thought provoking, yet somehow, disquieting presentation about Artificial Intelligence. Tonight, I would like to discuss: Native Intelligence.

I can distinctly remember being in seventh grade, studying what was then called “New Math”. (To this day, I really can’t explain what was “new” about it) We had a two-inch thick paper back workbook with lessons, examples, and problems to be solved. I can even remember our teacher — Mrs. Mansfield. She was spry, agile, and always impeccably dressed. But we took turns guessing what color her otherwise naturally white hair was going to be on Monday morning. Sometimes it had a slight pinkish tone — other times a blue pattern. Once, I recall her head having a distinct green halo.

I soon discovered that I had a knack for this subject and relished the challenge. But I was also struck by how non-universal that experience was. For the first time, I recall being mystified that another student struggled to understand a concept which seemed so obvious to me.

And, at the same time, I fumbled with saxophone lessons and reading music. Too late, I discovered as a high school freshman, that the exam process for high school band was a three-minute solo performance, (in front of the rest of the band, no less), of the John Phillips Souza march we were currently practicing in preparation for football halftime festivities. WOW, how embarrassing! Also, a freshman was always chosen to be the band secretary — whose requisite duties involved making sure every player had the correct music, in the correct order of performance — a thankless job if ever there was one. And, by tradition, the position generally was bestowed upon the worst performer. In this case—yours truly.

I used to read that the aptitude for Math and Music went hand-in-hand, but not so in my case.

All of which brings me to a discussion of the theory of multiple intelligences.

This proposal was first introduced as a radical concept in 1983 by Howard Gardner, in his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Gardner is best known in educational circles for this theory — a critique of the notion that there exists but one human intelligence that can be assessed by standard aptitude testing. He is currently the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981 and a Fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 2000. Many teachers, school administrators, and special educators have been inspired by Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences as it has allowed for the idea that there is more than one way to define a person's intellect. Thirty-eight years after the book was written, the theory is still enthusiastically, but not universally, embraced.

As John Maynard Keynes, the famous Nobel economist said: “The real difficulty in changing any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones”.

At the end of the 19th century, France passed a law mandating education for children ages six to fourteen. Amongst others, Alfred Binet was appointed to the Commission for the Retarded. The task was to develop a test that would provide data to distinguish those children who could benefit from remedial help. With the aid of a young medical student, Theodore Simon, in 1905 a new test for measuring intelligence was introduced — the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale. German psychologist William Stern then used the test to create the well known IQ — the tested mental age divided by the chronological age times 100.
Then in 1916, Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University, created a version for use in the United States and it became known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale. The U.S government recruited Terman to oversee the use of the IQ test for military recruiting for World War I. The recruits were given group intelligence tests which took about an hour to administer. Testing options included Army Alpha, a text-based test, and, Army-Beta, a picture-based test for nonreaders. (Parenthetically, I find it astounding that in 1916, there were so many illiterate men). 25 percent could not complete the Alpha test. The examiners scored the tests on a scale ranging from "A" through "E".
Recruits who earned scores of "A" would be trained as officers while those who earned scores of "D" and "E" would never receive officer training. After the war Terman and his colleagues pressed for intelligence tests to be used in schools to improve their efficiency. With administration to over 1.7 million recruits, and with the backing of the government, the Stanford-Binet test became widely accepted across the country. In part, the excitement about testing was that intelligence was now quantifiable — just as easy as measuring one’s height or weight.
Unfortunately, the test was also advanced by those in the Eugenics movement. Given the perceived importance of intelligence and with new ways to measure intelligence, many influential individuals, including Terman, began promoting controversial ideas to increase the nation's overall intelligence. These ideas included things such as discouraging individuals with low IQ from having children and granting important positions based on high IQ scores.
Throughout the remainder of the twentieth Century, countless people have pursued the best way of defining, measuring, and nurturing intelligence. IQ tests are only the tip of the cognitive iceberg. Such tests as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the American College Test, the Miller Analogies Test, the Graduate Record Exam, etc., are all based on technology originally developed to test intelligence. Even assessments that are focused on measuring achievement (as opposed to aptitude) strongly resemble traditional tests of intelligence.

Gardner admits that the pressure to determine who is intelligent and to do so at the earliest possible age is not likely to disappear anytime soon. But he says that the standard testing for college acceptance, gathers a homogeneous collection of “SAT minds”. And his theory presents a radically different view of the mind, recognizing many different cognitive strengths, and contrasting cognitive styles. He asks the question: “Why does the contemporary construct of intelligence fail to take into account large areas of human endeavor?”

Gardner defines intelligence as a biophysical potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture. This skill allows one to approach a situation where there is a goal to be obtained and to locate the best route to that goal. The problem might be anticipating a move in chess, creating a musical score, repairing a car, or running a successful political campaign.

Gardner, using a set of eight criteria, defines seven intelligences:

1. Musical Intelligence

Musical intelligence entails the skill in the performance, composition, or appreciation of musical patterns.

Think in our local place and time: Emanuel Ax, Yo-Yo Ma, John Williams, James Taylor. Enough said!

2. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence

Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence entails the potential of using one’s whole body or parts of the body to solve problems.

So include any of the dancers at Jacob’s Pillow, but especially choreographer Martha Graham whose dramatic and expressive performances defined artistry in movement. “Dance is the hidden language of the soul”, she once told the New York Times.

But also, include your favorite mechanic, electrician, or plumber.

Or, consider Roger Clemons, arguably the best pitcher of his generation. But, if you ever heard him speak, you knew he should stick to his day job!

Of course this particular intelligence, most readily translates into financial gain. Lebron James’s new contract will pay him a record $500,000 per game. But even the bench players will make the minimum yearly salary — $1.3 million. For Baseball the minimum is $545,000. For Hockey it’s $650,000. By comparison, the principal oboe player for the Boston Symphony Orchestra was paid $270,000 in 2017.

But, I can’t resist my favorite sports salary story: Babe Ruth was negotiating his salary with Col. Jacob Rupert, owner of the New York Yankees, in 1930, at the height of the Depression. Ruth was told his demand for $80,000 per year was outrageous, since President Hoover was making $75,000. Ruth replied: “What the hell does Hoover have to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did!”

3. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

Logical-mathematical intelligence involves the capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations and investigate issues scientifically. Mathematicians and scientists define this intelligence.

This area of intelligence is the foundation of current IQ testing. In gifted individuals the process of problem solving can be remarkably rapid. And, perhaps, a solution is discovered even before its step-by-step proof is articulated.

For instance, Einstein could imagine and postulate the existence of gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of space-time in 1916, but it would be a full century before LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) could confirm their existence.

4. Linguistic Intelligence

Linguistic intelligence involves sensitivity to spoken and written language, the ability to learn languages and the capacity to use language to accomplish goals. Lawyers, speakers, writers, poets are among the people with high linguistic intelligence.

The written expression of language is brought to us by our favorite authors. And so, readers interpret and enjoy text using their linguistic intelligence.

One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

5. Spatial Intelligence

Spatial intelligence features the potential to recognize and manipulate patterns of wide space (such as pilots), as well as patterns of more confined areas (including artists, architects, and sculptors).

Even with the advent of GPS making map reading skills obsolete, this is the intelligence required to drive a car. Although I see advertisements indicating parallel parking, perhaps the most difficult part of the road test for obtaining a driver’s license can be done automatically by pushing a button!

Spatial problem solving is required for playing chess. The visual arts use of space falls into this category of intelligence. Think of our member Norman Rockwell. And, sadly, the now absent Calder mobiles from the Berkshire Museum! Calder once said that when all goes well, “a mobile is a piece of poetry that dances with the joy of life and surprise”.

6. Interpersonal Intelligence

Interpersonal Intelligence is the capacity to notice distinctions among others — in particular, contrasts in moods, temperaments, motivations, and intentions. A skilled adult can read the desires of others, even when they might not be apparent. This highly honed skill appears in religious or political leaders, salespeople, teachers, therapists and, yes, even parents.

7. Intrapersonal Intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence is the knowledge of the internal aspects of oneself—access to one’s own feelings, one’s range of emotions and the ability to draw on that as a means of guiding one’s own behavior.

Since the publication of his book delineating these seven intelligences, Gardner fully expects that other intelligences could be entertained. In subsequent books he has discussed whether Naturalist Intelligence, Spiritual Intelligence, and Existential Intelligence meet his criteria. Although when asked if there is cooking intelligence, humor intelligence, or sexual intelligence, he facetiously replies: I can recognize only the intelligences that I possess”.

Despite describing the independence of these seven intelligences, Gardner acknowledges that nearly every cultural role requires several intelligences. Dance, for instance, requires bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal and spatial intelligence. Politics demands interpersonal skill, linguistic and logical aptitude (OR maybe not!).

We are familiar with the John F. Kennedy quote from April 29, 1962 given at a gathering honoring seven Nobel Prize winners:
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Kennedy continued: “Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet”

Gardner suggests that there is a long-standing bias towards testing; after all, for most of us in Western Society, intelligence is a capacity that can be measured by a set of short questions and answers. Gardner asks: “Couldn’t the same method be used to assess a new approach to intelligences?” However, the challenge of measuring someone’s understanding of him or her self or other people does not lend itself to measurement with a short-answer instrument — similarly with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Can a person express him/her self effectively in public? Can a person remember his/her way around a place, visited a while ago? Faced with an important decision, can a person reflect on previous experience and make a good decision? These capacities are central to intelligence and yet do not lend themselves to brief assessments. Gardner proposes a host of computer simulations that could be constructed, but realizes the impracticality of such evaluations for general use.

Colleges and Universities have tried for decades to discern the “whole” person in their admissions process. Have you been following the story of the high-stakes case accusing Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans? A group calling itself Students for Fair Admissions brought suit against Harvard for excluding Asian Americans based solely upon race. Harvard had fought the release of its proprietary admissions process, but ultimately had to reveal its secrets to the Court. The plaintiffs contend that Harvard’s own Office of Institutional Research found that Asian-Americans would comprise 43 percent of an admitted class if admissions officers considered only academic qualifications and should make up 26 percent of the class even when extracurricular activities and personal ratings are considered. Yet, Asian-Americans only made up 19 percent of admitted students for the year being evaluated — 2013. The Justice Department has weighed in saying that Harvard’s reliance on personal traits — such as kindness, leadership, and courage (in other words an attempt to measure something other than SAT scores), hurts Asian-American students who often receive lower interview scores from Admissions officers than other applicants. On campus, it has forced students to confront uneasy and intensely personal questions about racial diversity, privilege, and their place at an Ivy League institution. Unlike previous affirmative action lawsuits that hinged on whether a race-conscious admissions process benefitted black and Hispanic students, while hurting white students; this case pivots on a minority — Asian-American applicants.  Stay tuned.

Of course, it is tempting to think of particular intelligences as good or bad; and it is undoubtedly better to have more of certain intelligences than to lack them. However, no intelligence is, in itself, moral or immoral. Intelligence can be put to either a constructive or destructive use.

Before he became the Unabomber, Ted Kaczinski was a gifted mathematician. He went to Harvard on scholarship at age 16 and, in 1967, became the youngest assistant professor of mathematics ever at the University of California, Berkeley. But mathematics was unimportant to him, he later said. It was just a game he was good at. Indeed, he fiercely resented his mother’s insistence that he was a genius. In 1969, Kaczynski abruptly fled academia.

Sixteen bomb attacks, killing three people and injuring 23, were ultimately attributed to him. Tracking him was one of the longest and most expensive manhunts in FBI history. Kaczynski’s bombs were handcrafted, impossible to trace, and became more sophisticated and deadly with time. He carried out this cold trail of terrorism for sixteen years. If not for the actions of his brother David, the Unabomber might still be a fugitive and active bomber.

At trial the government sought the death penalty, breaking an agreement made with David Kaczynski to forgo it. Ultimately, Ted Kaczynski pleaded guilty rather than insanity in order to avoid being labeled as mentally ill; and received four life sentences. In a report for the 50th reunion of his class at Harvard, Kaczynski gave his occupation as “prisoner.” Under “awards,” he listed his life sentences.

And, in the category of the misuse of Interpersonal Intelligence, we are all too familiar with the sexual abuse scandals embroiling elite Prep schools, athletic programs such as USA Gymnastics, and The Boy Scouts of America. Most recently, this past summer a Pennsylvania Grand Jury wrote a searing report that Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate.

The report found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, and is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.”
The grand jury said that while some accused priests were removed from ministry, the church officials who protected them remained in office or even got promotions. Church officials followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” the grand jury said, minimizing the abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” instead of “rape”; and not informing the community of the real reasons behind removing an accused priest.
“Tell his parishioners that he is on ‘sick leave,’ or suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion.’ Or say nothing at all,” the report said.
Constructive and positive use of intelligences does not happen by accident. Deciding how to deploy one’s intelligence is a question of values.

Human beings possess a range of capacities and potentials that can be put to productive use. Individuals need to understand and subsequently deploy their multiple intelligences in productive ways in varying societal roles. Even though intelligence testing is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future, and standard testing of the full gamut of intelligence is not feasible, what matters is the use of intelligence to carry out tasks for the greater good. Accordingly, we should be assessing people’s intelligence by how successfully they carry out valued tasks; or, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: “I admire it when I see it.”

Material for this essay was derived from several books by Howard Gardner, including: Frames of Mind, Intelligence Reframed, and Multiple Intelligences. Also, The Boston Globe, The Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, and works my Maya Angelou. 

No comments:

Post a Comment