Multiple Intelligences

Education, Language

I wanted to clarify a comment I left in my post on Koko, the guerilla whose learned to use symbols to communicate with humans. I wrote the following:

I think both language and intelligence are really catch-all terms that cover a wide range of interrelated skills. So it isn’t a matter of animals standing somewhere on a scale at which Human intelligence equals a 10”, but rather they share some skills, lack others, and have yet others we don’t have. For instance, dogs understand a lot more about smells than we humans do. I believe they are also very aware of social dynamics. But does that mean that they can conjugate a verb? No. But that shouldn’t be the only test of intelligence” either!

The idea that language consists of many different interrelated skills was developed most famously by Charles Hockett, who listed sixteen design features of human language. Each species of animal might have a form of communication which exhibits some of these features, but only human language possesses all sixteen of these features. (A shorter list of 10 essential” features can be found on this page.) This is a useful list, although it makes one wonder if there aren’t features of animal communication which are not listed within Hockett’s list.

The idea that intelligence consists of more than just those human linguistic skills we value so highly comes from the work of Howard Gardner. Gardner’s multiple intelligences are all very human, but I think it is possible to extend this model to account for various forms of animal intelligence as well.

I should mention here that Taiwan’s new elementary school curriculum is very influenced by Howard Gardner’s work. While Bush’s No Child Left Behind (no, I didn’t forget to put the URL around that last word) policy is most certainly not.