I first read Howard Garner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences in 1984. He spoke a language I fully understood, and he had produced a book long overdue in American intellectual studies. He asserted that there are not two intelligences —linguistic and mathematical — as was commonly taught in every schoolroom in America. He declared that there are seven intelligences — linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, inter-personal, and intra-personal, and every child should be educated in every intelligence. In his work with brain-injured veterans at Boston’s VA hospital and in his careful research at Harvard, he determined a geography of the brain, which exactly located the various intelligences. It is a sterling work, which, I believe, will define the best practices of successful education in the 21st Century.
In 1986, I hosted Gardner on a visit to Aurora, IL, where I was on the staff of Aurora University. His final lecture on the first day of his visit was at the Fermilab auditorium in Batavia, IL. All 835 seats in the auditorium were filled, and people stood lining the perimeter of the auditorium to hear him. He claimed in his opening remarks that I had nearly worn him out — this was his seventh lecture this day. But he was brilliant. Without notes he lectured for more than an hour on his study of the mind and his developing theories in both intelligence and creativity.
When he concluded, a throng immediately surrounded him, wishing to meet him, to ask questions, to touch the hem of his garment. I finally took him gently by the arm and directed him to the reception planned for him, where, again, he was surrounded by people expressing interest and concern about his ideas. After almost an hour, I whispered to him, “You have a 7a.m. lecture at the Illinois Math-Science Academy — we really need to leave.” As we headed back to his motel, he said, “I wish my children could have been here tonight — they would understand better why I write almost every night.”
The results of his labors have been both excellent and important, and they reveal an expanding perspective of the nature of the mind and its vital personal and social functions. Significant as Frames of Mind is, my favorite Gardner book is Extraordinary Minds. In this book he begins by developing a “science of extraordinariness,” presents four marvelous portraits of extraordinary people, and then analyzes extraordinariness in the light of its potential in human life.
There are four kinds of extraordinariness he discusses, each with a representative example whose biography he presents. There is the Master, represented by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; there is the Maker, represented by Sigmund Freud; there is the Introspector, represented by Virginia Woolf, and there is the Influencer, represented by Mahatma Gandhi.
Each of these people shares three key features, which, Gardner says, are associated with extraordinariness. The first is Reflecting — “regular, conscious consideration of the events of daily life, in the light of longer-term aspirations.” The second is Leveraging — “the capacity of certain individuals to ignore areas of weakness and, in effect, to ask: ‘In which ways can I use my own strengths in order to gain a competitive advantage in the domain in which I have chosen to work?’” The third is Framing — “the capacity to construe experience in a way that is positive, in a way that allows one to draw apt lessons and, thus freshly energized, to proceed with one’s life.”
Characteristic of Gardner’s thinking is what he calls humane extraordinariness: “with the invaluable opportunity to use one’s mind and resources freely, there should come a concomitant responsibility to use them well and humanely.” As we consider the lives of extraordinary people, all of us — “ordinary no less than extraordinary” — have a means and the opportunity to “chart our [own] lives.” This is, it seems to me, our inheritance as a free people in an open society.
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