Multiple Intelligences & a Liberal Education

An Essay By Hannah D. // 2/10/2017

Dr. Kathy Koch has spent her career using Dr. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory to help kids fight low self-esteem and take control of their own education. A quick overview is in the following list. You may have any combination of them as preferable methods to use when you learn.

Linguistic Intelligence - you like words, how they sound, how they interact together. You like reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar.

Mathematical/Logical Intelligence - you like thinking in terms of logic and numbers. You like puzzles.

Spatial Intelligence - you like visualizing things. Drawings, maps, 3-D figures, graphs, and other visual representations are a plus.

Musical Intelligence - you pay attention to rhythms and tones. You like the way things sound, and – surprise! – you like music.

Interpersonal Intelligence - you like learning in groups, through discussion, and otherwise working with people.

Intrapersonal Intelligence - you like to mull things over, reflect, work independently. You are not afraid of learning from your mistakes.

Kinesthetic Intelligence - you like to move, through dancing, playing sports, or the like.

Natural Intelligence - you like nature, being outdoors, plants and animals, rocks and rivers. You thrive in a natural environmental setting.

The key here is to find which intelligence(s) best apply to you, and then use them to the fullest as you learn. If you’re curious about your own, take the quiz at the website, listed in the sources below.

Using this, I’ve no doubt, has helped a great deal of students – and their teachers! – as they learn together. However, I’d like to make one little, personal addition:

I think each student should try to use all of them.

Take a word smart student. It could help her very much to get her nose of her book and take a walk outside every once in a while (nature smart). Or maybe get out with a group of friends (social smarts) and play some ultimate Frisbee (body smart).

It is probably assumed that scientific geniuses such as Robert Oppenheimer (atom bomb) and Albert Einstein (relativity) were primarily math/logic smart. But each of them was also music smart – Oppenheimer played the flute, Einstein the violin. Oppenheimer also enjoyed poetry (word smart) and Sanskrit literature (in its original language!), and Einstein studied German philosophy (which includes, among other things, self smarts).

Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences may sound like synonyms for extraversion and introversion, but when it comes to education, wouldn’t each type of student benefit by occasionally stepping outside her comfort zone? Certainly, the introverted student can stick primarily to learning in an intrapersonal fashion (and vice versa), but it would still behoove such a student to practice group learning and dynamics as well. In the same way, a student who primarily studies interpersonally could benefit by occasionally slowing down and pondering a new idea over on her own.

We treat “the arts” – music, theater, dance, drawing, foreign language, etc. – as electives. And certainly, to interpersonal CEO’s and mathematical professors, these subjects can be electives, can bring enrichment. But what if students whose primary intelligences were in “the arts” also viewed opposite subjects as “electives?” Musicians can find enjoyment in an elective that includes some knowledge and experience of nature. Kinesthetic athletes may be enriched by studying linguistic subjects. The poet doesn’t have to be an expert on logic. But what violin was to Einstein, logic could be for that poet.

I’m not saying that budding artists (spatial intelligence) with a fear of math should be pressured to take calculus or become algebra experts. But by studying it with an open mind (not one that insists, “But I don’t have the ‘math gene!’”), that artist can discover a whole new world that makes life more exciting. The point is this: a well-rounded education is very much worth the effort.

“No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest – for it is a part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.”
- T. S. Eliot

This type of education – a liberal education – fosters critical thinking, open-mindedness, talent in one’s preferred field, and a willingness to explore challenges beyond that field. Studying the arts and sciences, while fostering a love for nature, pursuing a working knowledge of sports or dance (or both), through group work and individual effort, produces a well-rounded individual. That person is then capable of handling the challenges of living in an ever-changing world - it may even be limiting to pursue expertise in just one or two favorite fields only.

If a student can combine some elements of music, literature, sketching, math problems, an outdoor stroll, a classroom debate, a reflective journal entry, and an end-of-the-day jazz class into her week, she can be sure that she is going to be enriched. Challenged. Refreshed. Enlightened by some new perspective. While free to allot more or less time to each according to personal preference, she is still making the most out of the resources available. She is pursuing a liberal education.

Christ, Carol T. (2012). Myth: A Liberal Arts Education is Becoming Irrelevant. American Council on Education.

Davis, Jeffry C & Ryken, Philip G. Eds. (2012). Liberal Arts for the Christian Life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.

Bird, K. & Sherwin, M. J. (2006). American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Vintage Books.

Multiple Intelligences Quiz:


Hi Hannah! The idea of

Hi Hannah!
The idea of various intelligences has always been very interesting to me. As someone who has undergone a liberal arts education through high school and college and benefitted greatly from it, I find these ideas to be quite applicable!

Erin | Tue, 02/14/2017

"You were not meant to fit into a shallow box built by someone else." -J. Raymond

Hi Erin, thanks so much for

Hi Erin, thanks so much for reading! I think it's fascinating too, that's awesome that you've always had a liberal arts focus. It makes learning even more exciting. :)

Hannah D. | Tue, 02/14/2017

"Reason itself is a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all." - G. K. Chesterton