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Do You Think There Is Only One Kind of Intelligence? Think Again!

My daughter attends what I consider to be a very open-minded and progressive school. Still, they do something that as a parent has always disturbed me a bit.

They separate kids into an “intellectually gifted” class. Unfortunately, my daughter is not one who made that cut, although some of her friends from earlier grades had.

To boost her damaged self-esteem — as I am sure many other parents do in similar situations — my husband and I explained to her that “Everyone has gifts. Yours are just in different areas, like with your writing (yes, she takes after mommy!) and your artwork, and acting, and dancing.”

As it turns out, these were not just words to soothe her bruised ego. In fact according to Dr. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard University, there may be as many as nine different and distinct “intelligence types.”

Dr. Gardner developed his theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) in 1983. According to MI, as opposed to the traditional view, human beings actually possess nine different kinds of intelligence that reflect different ways of interacting with the world.

What I find particularly interesting about the theory, is that Dr. Gardner says instead of one single intelligence, or even one of his nine types, we all possess each of the nine in different combinations. No two people have the exact same combination.

It is like our DNA or fingerprints. This would explain a lot to parents such as myself who have often found themselves saying in frustration, “I know my kid is really smart, she just doesn’t seem to do well on those standardized tests.”


  1. Linguistic Intelligence: Is your ability to use language to express what’s on your mind and to understand other people. Writers, actors, lawyers, anyone for whom using language is important, have great linguistic intelligence.
  2. Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: Is your ability to understand principles of cause and effect, and work with symbols the way a scientist or mathematician does.
  3. Musical Rhythmic Intelligence: Is your ability to think musically; to be able to hear patterns and rhythms, manipulate and create them.
  4. Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence: Is your ability to use your whole body or parts of your body to problem solve. People with a great deal of this intelligence do well as athletes, or in the performing arts, particularly dancing or acting.
  5. Spatial Intelligence: Is your ability to represent the spatial world internally in your mind, to navigate and relate to the word around you. People with a great deal of spatial intelligence make great pilots, and sailors obviously, but also sculptors, and scientists.
  6. Naturalist Intelligence: Is your ability to relate to other living things and understand the natural world. Geologists, biologists, botanists, and even chefs, possess a good deal of this intelligence.
  7. Intrapersonal Intelligence: Is your ability to know and understand yourself; who you are, what you can do, and what your limitations are, are all part of this intelligence. People high in this kind of intelligence can do almost anything, because they are very aware of what they can, and cannot do.
  8. Interpersonal Intelligence: Is your ability to understand others. Teachers, clinicians, salespersons, or politicians, anyone who deals with other people, benefit from a high degree of this intelligence.
  9. Existential Intelligence: Is your capacity to ponder and grasp questions about life, death, and ultimate realities. People who are drawn to philosophy or religious pursuits, are high in this type of intelligence.

What is Intelligence?

For Gardner, rather than simply being a measure of cognitive ability, intelligence is:

  • The ability to create an effective product or offer a service that is valued in a culture.
  • A set of skills that make it possible for a person to solve problems in life.
  • The potential for finding or creating solutions for problems, which involves gathering new knowledge.

I like the sound of that. And if my daughter can grow to do those things, then she will surely be “gifted,” and a gift to the world, despite her FCAT scores!


About Cynthia Lechan-Goodman


  1. Once you read that the school is open-minded and progressive you already know that a boat load of crap is going to be involved. I’m sure your daughter will get her participation trophy and just move on.

  2. Unfortunately, in an effort to satisfy standardized tests, individualized and mathematically centered instruction tends to give preference to intelligence #2.

    #1, #4 and #8 are mostly given lip service and the other five need to be affirmed and nurtured outside of school.

    The good news is that, if your child can affirm herself in her own intellect, she will be better off than school children who currently achieve affirmation from their teachers, and may find that her intellect eventually exceeds theirs both in and out of school.

  3. When I went to school I started in 1A1, and in New York city it went to 1B3. Nobody told us what the class meant and noone questioned it because in a big school in a big school district, they were just numbers and letters. My mother never told me I was “gifted” my Dad certainly did not. I was in school to learn. When I was in 3A, a teacher was out and 3C sat with us.I had never seen a kid who looked fine but could not draw a straight line with a ruler. Nobody told me I was different, if I wanted to not
    get the hairbrush, I got good grades. I still got smacked for obedience and talking, but I still did it. School was where you learned to get along with the bullies,because we all met them again later in life. Do not tell your kids they are extra smart, that will never do them any good, They have to make their own way in life and the sooner they start learning the better.

  4. I can identify with #5. I had intended to go to medical school after earning my BS, but I loved planes. I earned a private pilot license in my senior year. When I saw a Navy recruiter table on campus, one day, I took the test. I earned my wings of gold and to this day, 50 years later, retain my interest in science and flight. My room mate in the Navy had an aeronautical engineering degree. He never got past basic jet training. His education had taught him to know how the plane would react in every situation. He always said he knew what the plane was supposed to do, but it wouldn’t do it. I said fly by the seat of your pants.

    We have a dyslexic son who is highly intelligent and excellent creative artist. He struggled in school for the same reasons cited. We pulled him from mainstream parochial grade school and put him thru a school which specifically addressed dyslexia. It paid off.

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