So, my husband recently bought me a Dyson stick vacuum cleaner. And I must say, I am a little bit disappointed with it. Now, to give it credit, it vacuums up the dust amazingly, has a powerful suction, and is certainly lightweight (which is great as I have a bit of a bad back). But, it does nothing for my windows and I am still left with piles of washing just sitting around. I mean I tried it, but my windows are no cleaner, and as for the washing, it ate that sock!

debunking the dyson myth

Ok, what has this to do with education? OK. You know. There are enough memes around on social media, you know where I am going with this. You will have understood, that my Dyson is not made for cleaning windows, or doing my washing. And no, I did not wreck my brand-new Dyson on a sock! But I do want to debunk a Dyson Myth that is doing the rounds about Multiple Intelligence. The Dyson Myth espouses the idea that not having the dominant type of intelligences, means you cannot succeed in the education system – or that the education system will fail you. Much like my Dyson will fail at cleaning windows.

Howard Gardiner’s Multiple Intelligence theory has been around since 1983 and has gained a lot of acceptance in the education community. I use it myself in the classroom (see this blog post). His original idea was that the traditional notion of intelligence based on IQ was too limited. He identified seven distinct intelligences including areas such music, spatial relations, inter and intra personal knowledge in addition to mathematical and linguistic ability. The theory was students possess different kinds of minds, and “learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways”. But this is where the myth and the Howard part ways.

Howard went on to say, that where we as individuals differ is the strength of these intelligences, – “the so-called profile of intelligences – and in the ways in which such intelligences are invoked and combined to carry out different tasks, solve diverse problems, and progress in various domains” (Gardner, 1991). But the Dyson Myth runs something like this – I am a person with a Bodily-Kinaesthetic Intelligence, therefore I must be taught solely through this framework. To ask me to work with my Linguistic Intelligence (often a dominant mode in most schools), is to set me up for failure.

Well, I cannot speak for Howard Gardner – but as a long-time teacher, NOT to ask students to work with their linguistic intelligence, or any other of the intelligences, is to set them up for failure in life, for life! As with Gardner (2011), I do believe in paying attention to my students’ individual differences, making provision for lots of choice, and including in my classroom curriculum a predilection for probing deeply into topics. But I do this through differentiation and by adopting teaching strategies that includes all students, allows them to play to their strengths, and builds on their weaknesses.

Again, I am with Howard, who sees that the result of school education should be “the inculcation in students of the capacities to think in the ways that characterize the scholars in the major disciplinary families. Once the basic literacies have been achieved (and no one disputes their primacy or their importance), the acquisition of scientific, mathematical, historical, and artistic ways of thinking—the scholarly disciplines—should assume center stage.” (2011)

So, let’s toss out the Dyson Myth of Multiple Intelligences and work towards including all students in our classrooms, but in ways helps them to develop as individuals, to grow as learners who can work in many ways, and to be successful in their academic and life pursuits.

Oh, by the way, I love my Dyson – for vacuuming!

Gardner, H. (2011) The unschooled mind: how children think and how schools should teach. New York, NY: Basic Books.

De-bunking the Dyson Myth of Multiple Intelligences

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