(Multiple) Intelligence(s) and Critical Thinking
Been doing some work and reading around Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences” (M.I.) meme/rhetoric, as well as the competing/subsuming idea of a “General Intelligence Factor.” Ugh. This whole debate about what the term “intelligence” can or should specifically refer to (versus more general notion of “ability” or “cognitive ability”) is tiresome. Much of the discussion — and most of the content on M.I. in particular — lacks the clarity and consistency of Critical Thinking. My next paragraph below will address that. After that, I’m going to put in my $0.02222 on this issue of defining “intelligence” and say that, regardless of whether one accepts Gardner’s wider definition of “intelligence,” the notion of “critical thinking” is — independently of all this M.I. stuff — a big part of what goes into being and behaving as an intelligent person.
Critical thinking is, well, critical… especially if we’re going to start re-defining and re-categorizing forms of “intelligence” and drawing conclusions about different sorts of mental abilities, how to best teach to different sorts of people, what to measure, how to measure it, what exactly our criteria are to define any of these “intelligences,” “factors,” or “quotients,” how to prove or disprove any of this, and so on. Critical thinking is also critical if we’re going to get any practical distinctions (or applications) from this intellectual effort. Semantics aside, even if you reject the M.I. concept as pure fluff (it is pretty fluffy), the reduction of intelligence to measurable “differences in tasks that will soon be performed for all of us by computational agents” (Selmer Bringsjord, 2000) seems pretty silly.
Similarly, no matter how you slice and dice the notion of “intelligence,” the element of critical thinking plays a huge role in what people colloquially understand as “being smart.” Critical thinking is not just a feature of “verbal-linguistic intelligence” or “logical-mathematical intelligence.” Critical thinking comes into play massively in the areas of “visual-spatial intelligence,” “inter/intrapersonal intelligence,” “musical intelligence,” and virtually any other “intelligence” you want to define. Critical thinking is paramount for anyone who wants to do well in Architecture, Song Writing, Diplomacy or Self-Help.
Whether you are a scientist or a sculptor, critical thinking is a discipline which combines certain skills and attitudes, and these must be cultivated and practiced. Critical thinking is a vehicle that is fueled by the raw horsepower your latent talent/intelligence (however you want to define or measure it), but the vehicle itself is built and driven by you — your choices and behaviors.
Critical thinking is when you ask yourself, “Does this make sense? Is it logical? Is it relevant? Is it consistent? Credible? Feasible?” Critical thinking is part of the reality check which facilitates the productive tension between vision and reality, the upward-expanding elastic band described by Peter Senge. Without it, the elastic band snaps and flings away.
Critical thinking is about exercising judgment — such as thinking twice before deciding to fly a 747 passenger jet and a F-16 fighter jet around Lower Manhattan, circling at low altitudes, on a clear and sunny weekday morning, without warning the general public, in order to get some vain, banal, easily simulated, stock photographic footage. I don’t know which of Gardner’s 8 “intelligences” were involved in that idiocy, but I do know people who ran down 30+ flights of stairs and got hurt because of it.
Finally: If as a teacher you’re going to go to the trouble and try to engage different intelligences/proclivities/learning styles/etc in a classroom, you might as well try engaging your classroom’s critical thinking abilities as well. Challenge them to challenge themselves… and to challenge you. (Intellectually challenge, that is… as Eric Cartman would say, “respect mah authority…”) Admittedly, it will take more work for both you and the students, but it will be worth it.