By J.M. Marvin
My son is brilliant. Like both his mother and grandfather before him, he could read both print and music at the age of three. At five he grew impatient with my reading out loud to him one chapter a day of The Hobbit, and finished it himself within a few days. At six, he was reading and discussing Sherlock Holmes mysteries. After a public school teacher of limited vision rebuked him for plagiarizing an original story that he composed, I began homeschooling him. He now has a Master’s Degree.
My husband is also brilliant. A highschool dropout, he can barely spell everyday words well enough to create a shopping list for the grocery store. He had to repeat two elementary school grades, starting with kindergarten (and this was before they created state standards for kindergarten!) But he can do something that neither my son nor I, for all our high I.Q.’s, can fathom: One rainy night, as he drove me to work on an unlit, two-lane country road, we passed a dark empty lot several yards back from the road doing 70 mph when he exclaimed, “Wow! Did you see that 1957 Plymouth Plaza?” I had barely discerned there was even a car there. In the morning on the return trip we stopped to examine the vehicle in the clear light of day, and sure enough, it was a 1957 Plymouth Plaza, in excellent shape for a 40-year-old car.
Verbal-linguistic intelligence such as my son shows is rewarded by our educational system, and is the keystone of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, first developed in the early 1900’s. But in 1983 a paradigm shifter named Howard Gardner published Frames of Mind, describing his theory that “word smart” is only one way of being smart. Naturalistic intelligence, such as my husband demonstrates, distinguishes the similar and contrasting features that characterize one species of plant, animal, or rock from another. In another culture, people strong in this intelligence become botanists or taxonomists. In an urban landscape, they can become skilled at discerning one vehicle from another.
Traditional schools also value logical/mathematical intelligence, while everybody recognizes the visual/graphic/spatial intelligence of the artist, the kinesthetic “body smart” of the athlete or dancer, and the use of pitch, tone, rhythm, combined with talent for performance, composition or appreciation of musical patterns, that is distinctive of musical intelligence. Less obvious are interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, having to do with how people relate with others or with a more introspective self-awareness. Recently, Gardner has been considering whether spiritual or moral proclivity, a fascination with deep questions, constitutes a ninth “existential” intelligence.
While this theory is controversial among psychologists, it has found acceptance among educators, who even in public school pedagogy preparation see the value in appealing to different learning styles and problem-solving gifts. (Although, just for the record, the “No Child Left Behind” legislated exams do not incorporate any recognition or application of this theory.)
Howard Gardner argues that the big challenge “is how to best take advantage of the uniqueness conferred on us as a species exhibiting several intelligences.” How can you identify and appeal to the varied intelligences of your homeschooled learners?
With a degree in Modern Languages and Bilingual Education, Jennifer has taught Spanish, Russian, Latin, and Bible, coordinated weekly chapel, and tutored Hebrew at The Garden School. She homeschooled her son before sending him to Sarasota Christian School, and is an avid advocate of home cooking, home remedies, home birth, and home death as well.