Who is the T-shaped student?

Is intelligence singular or plural? Is it a single, coherent quality, or are there different kinds of intelligences?

Educationist and developmental psychologist Howard Gardner persuasively negates the theory of a single IQ that underlies most standardised tests worldwide and has pioneered the influential theory of multiple intelligences. He listed seven fundamental intelligences — linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, and intrapersonal — to which he added three more later: naturalist, spiritual and existential. These intelligences are variously rooted in the different disciplines, domains of knowledge, activities, and professions.

To better understand the professional lives that the different disciplines take on in the real world, it is useful to look back on the diverse sets of intelligences. If we imagine the world of work as made up of different sectors as Gardner suggests, it becomes easy to see the wide application of different kinds of intelligences.

Logical-mathematical intelligence, one of the most prized academically, plays a key role in finance, accounting, and the sciences. Sectors in which communication is key draw heavily on linguistic intelligences. Musical and other artistic intelligences find a natural home in the entertainment industry. Personal intelligences play a key role in any job, but they are especially crucial in sectors that deal with public interaction. Bodily-kinaesethetic intelligences are prized highly in athletics, arts and crafts. Sectors dealing with navigation, transportation, advertising or graphics require, more than anything else, a high degree of spatial intelligence; sectors that work closely with the environment, plant and animal life, textile, food preparation and ecology, prize naturalist intelligence.

A complex

In reality, however, a complex of various intelligences is essential to any profession. No one intelligence is enough, even though particular intelligences are of special value to different professions. A productive relationship between multiple sets of intelligences is especially crucial in the higher echelons of business and leadership. Most businesses have a range of departments in addition to management and leadership positions: marketing, sales, accounting, production, human resources, finance, customer relations, outreach, philanthropy, and community outreach. Different combinations of linguistic, personal, logical-mathematical, existential and spiritual intelligences shape success in different positions. Even when disciplinary expertise is helpful in specific spheres of professional life, it needs to be supplemented by a complex of other intelligences. These can only be nourished by a range of disciplines and co-curricular training.

The importance of curricular range and diversity in one’s college education cannot be exaggerated, even if depth forms the crux. The ideal liberal artscience graduate is a T-shaped individual. Jeffrey Selingo, former editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, outlines this idea evocatively in his recent book, There is Life after College. The expert in a single subject, the product of a traditional undergraduate education, is an ‘I-shaped’ person, one who embodies vertical expertise. The T-shaped individual, on the other hand, comes out of a college education that combines depth along with breadth or range. The vertical line of the T stands for depth in one’s direction of specialisation. The horizontal bar stands for breadth of knowledge in a number of fields and domains. A dedicated curriculum of general education, followed by disciplinary expertise goes a long way in preparing the kind of individual who can harness multiple intelligences.

Most leading universities in the U.S. have dedicated curricula of general education that require all students to experience the full gamut of disciplines, methods, and archives. For instance, Northwestern University structures its general education curriculum into three divisions — nature, culture, and data. Nature includes fields that contribute to the understanding of the natural or physical world, culture deals with different domains of human behaviour and creativity, while quantitative reasoning, statistical analysis, and computational modelling are clustered under data.

At Stanford, students have to take courses in eight broad categories: creative expression, aesthetic and interpretive inquiry, social inquiry, applied quantitative reasoning, scientific method and analysis, formal reasoning, ethical reasoning, and engaging diversity. The University of Virginia takes a similar approach, where students are required to take courses in non-Western perspectives in addition to the established divisions of knowledge in the humanities, social and natural sciences.

If disciplinary expertise — along with the attendant intelligences — must have close links to the goods or services produced by the corporation, its location within the world at large demands an assortment of other intelligences. Such an assortment can only be nourished by a range of disciplines, and crucially, by the horizontal stroke of the T. The worldly success of a corporation and its employees is not simply measurable through quantitative trends in the free market, but through the way they bring together a complex of intelligences, ranging from the mathematical to the personal.

The author’s most recent book is College: Pathways of Possibility (Bloomsbury, 2018). Twitter: @_saikatmajumdar.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 14, 2021 4:59:37 PM |

Next Story