Multiple Intelligences and our world
I first came upon the theory of multiple intelligences in a book entitled Life Studies. Howard Gardner introduced his theory in Frames of Mind: Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1983). His theory examines the idea that intelligence does not exist as a singular general ability, but as several different sensory modes. His premise was that traditional IQ testing didn’t take into account that different people learn in different ways. Interesting enough, Gardner identified as many as eight different strengths most people utilize to learn and those include, but are not limited to: Logical-mathematical, musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, bodily- kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. It was a breakthrough that broke down barriers in our perception of what truly constitutes intelligence, acknowledging the subject is vast and multidimensional. It considers more than test scores, vocabulary, degrees, computations, or quotes. The mode that I found the most fascinating was bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Gardner stated some people learn better through movement, like participating in sports, dance, or other rhythmic movement. It’s setting a clear goal through physical action and training the body to respond to physical cues. I am not particularly athletic in any way shape or form, but find this fascinating. The traditional perception of people with athletic or physical prowess does not often include being intelligent..
The topic came up one night. I was going to a party with my friend and a couple of her boys came by to pick us up. They were pretentious, but I found one of them particularly irritating. He was talking about his experience in school and the athletes on the football team. He mocked them by calling them ‘run and jump monkeys’ and described them as stupid. I was immediately offended. Not only by his harshness and insensitivity, but that it was being said by one young black man about other young black men. I asked him why he felt the need to degrade them. His response, “Anybody can play football,” and tried to defend the point by saying the sport can be mastered through practice. In turn, I offered some facts I learned from Gardner’s theory. Football, or any other sport, requires more than just running after a ball. There’s strategy, calculation, and knowing and understanding how to use your body while having the grace and ability to do so to play well or win. The mind is constantly at work, always thinking while the body is in motion. Having mastery over this is, in fact, a singular intelligence and should be treated and respected as such. I used Michael Jackson as an example. His dance innovations, performance skills, and the legendary moonwalk can all be attributed to kinesthetic intelligence. MJ is the perfect example of Kinesthetic, Verbal/Linguistic/and Musical/Rhythmic-Harmonic intelligences as a matter of fact because he possessed it all. He was truly a renaissance man. Another is Michael Jordan. Jordan is probably one of the few athletes that I have heard referred to as a genius. He set an undeniable standard on and off the court. He flew through the air and, to many; his skill seemed to break the laws of physics. It was magic. He used his obvious athletic prowess and his business acumen to create a marketing empire, breaking the stereotype of the dumb jock.
Yet most athletes are reduced to ‘run and jump monkeys’. I felt his comments unfair and a by-product of conditioning, racism, and an attempt to undermine the greatness of urban youth, since a majority of football players are black. A lot of these athletes are not scholarly, yet are successful solely based on their athletic abilities. The concept of the dumb jock has been in place for many, many years and has been attributed to all races.
Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson and many other athletes are publicly mocked and regarded as ignorant men because of their obvious lack of education coupled with their socioeconomic backgrounds. However, get them in the ring and their minds work like Einstein’s. Their intellect cannot be expressed verbally, but it’s certainly evident in their skillful strategy used to beat their opponents. Their comprehension of the sport naturally surpasses anything that can just be taught or practiced through repetition, yet society still has difficulty labeling men like these geniuses. People enjoy sports and respect the pursuit of a winning season, but most don’t respect athletics as much as mathematics, literature, or science. Pursuits in those fields are encouraged and adulated.
Science, literature, and mathematics aren’t entertainment and are standard by which we gauge education. It is great that Gardner set the standard revolutionizing what teachers do in their classroom. Today, many teachers build in exercises that touch on each intelligence module. It’s important that we acknowledge not everyone learns from sitting and reading. While the standard subjects are the foundation of every developed industrial and civilized nation it important to remember kinesthetic intelligence built America through the 400 years of free labor and 200 pounds of cotton picked daily in the blazing sun. Hands, muscles, bodies, and movement.
I believe the reason many black peoples’ intelligence is displayed through the kinesthetic modality is we are still often perceived to be less ‘intellectual’. It’s forced us to take advantage of the many years we were forced into manual labor and succeed in spite of them, while laughing all the way to the bank.