Common Knowledge and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Intelligence, according to Lexico, is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills” (Lexico). As a psychology major, I have to take a course called Child Development. In my class we recently had a test on the topic of intelligence.

In his 1983 book “Frame of Mind”, Howard Gardner proposed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Levine). He said that intelligence can be evaluated in eight ways, rather than by just one ability. The alternative ways of intelligence he proposed are: musical, interpersonal, spatial-visual, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and logical (Levine). Musical intelligence describes someone who understands music, its rhythm, and its patterns. Interpersonal describes someone who can more easily understand and relate to people. Spatial-visual refers to people who are good at visualizing things mentally. Linguistic verbal refers to someone who is good with using words in both writing and in speaking. Body-kinesthetic means that people with this strength have good physical control and coordination. Intrapersonal intelligence describes an individual who is mindful of their thoughts and feelings. Naturalistic intelligence is said to be someone who connects well to nature and enjoys exploring the environment. Lastly, logical intelligence describes an individual who possesses strength in analyzing problems and performing mathematical equations (Cherry 2019).

This shows that people have different ranges of abilities. While there may be one skill that a person is considerably weaker in, they may have a strength in a different skill.

For instance, while I consider musical talent to be a weaker form of intelligence for myself, I consider my linguistic intelligence a strength since I can very easily write articles and assignments without enormous difficulty.

In spite of how applicable each of these forms of intelligence is, there is still an abundance of controversy. Many theorists criticize Gardner’s theory for its ambiguity since they think each form is too general, and because they feel that his theory describes an individual’s personality traits and talents rather than their knowledge.

This controversy leads us to the question: is there really more than one kind of intelligence, as proposed by Gardner?

In class on Friday, our class read aloud Percival Everett’s re:f (gesture). Sitting in a circle, we went around the room, each of us reading a letter of his novel from the alphabet and its interesting description following. We were informed beforehand by Professor McCoy that there would be words we would not know, and that she may not know either. Following our class reading, Professor McCoy randomized us into groups and asked each of us within the groups to pick a letter from the text we read and break it down, without using the internet for help. My group picked the letter F, being that we found it the most humorously written. The letter F included a line that said, “F is for fuck.”

Schiller, a member of our group, raised the question: what is common knowledge? Schiller continued, asking how it is that we could know what other people know? What is the basis of knowledge?

As mentioned, I am in that Child Development class where we just focused on theories of intelligence. I responded to Schiller, acknowledging the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, and essentially said that there is not just one standard kind, according to Gardner. Rather, each person has their own strengths and weaknesses in different kinds of intelligence; therefore, there is not one standard. I exemplified this and said that for instance, we may look at Leda, a name mentioned in the F letter text, and we may have no clue who that is. But, through context clues and through our knowledge from other courses we have taken, we can make somewhat of an assumption of who she is.

For example, Ashley, another member of our group, said that she remembered learning about Leda in one of her other courses, and said this woman was a Greek goddess. After she told us that, we saw that several of the following lines also referred to Leda and Greek mythology. Ashley’s outside knowledge, as well as each of our group members’ knowledge, brought together multiple forms of intelligence. But, in light of our uncertainty beforehand, does this mean that Everett’s references were not classified as ‘common knowledge’?

This leads us to define the word common. Common, according to Lexico, is “occurring, found, or done often; prevalent.” Both intelligence and this concept of ‘common’ relate to standardized tests and exams that we, as students, were expected to take in our earlier years of education. These tests, consisting of English and math, do not reflect the other capabilities that students have. As reflected by Gardner’s theory, a student who takes this test may struggle in either English or math, but may excel in music. However, musical intelligence is not a measure that is tested on these standardized exams. It is just that the people who create these exams, as well as educators, expect and/or assume that the information us students are taught in school is categorized as ‘common knowledge’. In fact, it really is not.

As a student who thinks in a more English-oriented way and who struggles a sufficient amount in math-related areas, in high school I may have come across a math question and felt flustered. I may have felt this way because what is common knowledge to one person is not the same as it is for me. My writing capabilities are undoubtedly not the same as everyone else’s, and similarly, someone’s advanced mathematical capabilities are not the same as mine. We are then led to ask: is common knowledge actually common?

Linking back to our class discussion yesterday of re:f (gesture), can we as both readers and critical thinkers say that if we do not know what a word in a text means that it is not common knowledge? Especially if you cannot look it up?

Intelligence and its connection to common knowledge further demonstrate that while some theorists believe there is one standard intelligence, that maybe, just as Gardner proposed, there are actually alternative forms. What is common to one person may be more uncommon to another.

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