Cannot deny children are different

26th November 2004 at 00:00
John White debunks the "myth" of multiple intelligences, suggesting that the theory is based on flaky, flawed psychology (TES, November 12). MI theory, he holds, is a "pluralistic version of the 1960s child-centred teaching approach". We are told that there is no evidence of children being "hard-wired with a whole range of abilities in varying strengths".

Certainly the formal curriculum shows little recognition that children have such a range of abilities, hard-wired or otherwise: as Uta Frith points out, there is no evidence that the brain is hard-wired for the "supremely cultural phenomenon" of literacy, and plenty of evidence that some brains find this stuff much easier to assimilate and apply than others.

Awareness of these differences has not stopped the powers that be from maintaining a formal curriculum that depends almost totally on the successful acquisition and application of literacy skills. ("Ah yes, we know you can make a coffee table, but you must spend an equal amount of time writing a discourse about its design specification, if you want formal recognition of your skillaptitude intelligence".) Just as Gardner's model of eight intelligences is based on a value judgement, so the formal curriculum is based on a set of value judgements which appear to have been made by groups of academically successful adults with high levels of linguistic intelligence, often using the premise "it was good enough for us".

If we dismiss MI theory on the grounds of its "flaky and flawed psychology" and retreat back to the battlements of Curriculum-first Castle, we should also scrutinise the dubious and best-guess sociology on which the content of the formal curriculum rests.

Any connection between curriculum content and the future needs of the labour market seems shaky at best; certainly employers aren't roundly applauding the effectiveness and relevance of the education system. The system's social outcomes don't seem to be the envy of the world, either.

Meanwhile, children with very different levels of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills (as well as logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, etc.) continue to roll through the school gates. It doesn't much matter whether these differences are a consequence of innate intelligences or exclusively environmental factors: if the differences are not recognised and if they do not inform the education process, it cannot be a fully effective process.

Biff Crabbe 16 Victoria Road Walton-on-the-Naze Essex

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