Is intelligence IQ?

The following was a writing assignment for Foundations of Adult Education in the Professional Instructor Program. Instructor Karen Brooke at Vancouver Community College on 5 May 2019.

In 2000, Howard Gardner “questioned the dominance of intelligence as a single, inborn capacity assessed by IQ tests. [Rather] he defined intelligence as ‘biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in a culture’” (as quoted by Merriam & Bierema p159). Following are my personal reflections on this quote.

Objective What is this idea and what is it about?

Gardner’s theory moves the definition of intelligence outside of the abstract (and therefore practically speaking, unpractical,) domain of academia. He expands the definition of the concept, basing it on a deeper historical narrative, and in doing so makes it more practical as well as inclusive. This allows him to propose 7 types of intelligence in addition to “the linguistic and logical-mathematical forms of intelligence that are at a premium in the schools”. The types are musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential.   

Reflective How do I identify with it?

My first memory of thinking about intelligence (executive intelligence) is intensely personal. I grew up in South America, the son of an evangelical missionary. I had a crippling speech impediment. Being part of a fundamental evangelical denomination, and particularly the missionary’s son, led me along a path of public existence consisting of continuous torture: from Sunday School bible drills; through incessant verse memorization and recitation; and culminating in preaching (the most coveted of gifts). Not only did my inability to speak the word of God publicly put me in the same crisis of faith as the patriarch from Goshen (Exodus 4:10), it also led me to question, in my own mind, the exaltation of one gift above all others. 

These pervasive mindset around intelligence seemed particularly hypocritical in light of what the apostle Paul writes to the first century Corinthian church, ‘there are many parts, but one body.’ The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable’ (1 Corinthians 12:21). He was, of course, speaking metaphorically of the community of believers and the organizational value that tended to elevate one role above all other apparently lesser roles.  

Since I, as a stuttering missionary kid, was lacking the most coveted of gifts, I resolved to express the divine characteristics of the Creator as a visual artist — a ministry career destined to failure since our denomination forbade the idolatrous practice of creating beautiful things. 

Interpretive What insights did I get?

The “traditional” academic view of intelligence, based on Alfred Binet’s c. 1900 intelligence quotient test, has a pervasive and detrimental effect on perceptions of individual worth, academic opportunity, and professional career growth. It is, in Gardners’ own words, “unfair”. A more inclusive view of intelligence takes into account different ways of thinking, individual “strengths, and contrasting cognitive styles” (p5). 

Decisional How will I apply it to my professional practice?

As an instructor, I recognize that Gardner’s theory “has implications for today’s trends in higher education regarding access, diversity in learning needs, and accountability and assessment” (Merriam & Bierema p159). I can see two very practical applications in my classroom. 

First, acknowledge that not all students learn the same way, or at the same speed, by offering multiple ways of learning a concept such as a lecture, a youtube video, and written instructions. Also by allowing for assignments to be expressed in different formats, such as by recording a podcast or writing an essay (Gardner p56).

When assessing how well students have learned theoretical components of the curriculum, by focusing instead on how they understand a concept which in Gardners’s words is simply “how they would apply their knowledge” to solve real problems in their “everyday world” (p125). Since every student would apply the concept in their own way, simply reframing a “what is…” question to “how would you…” allows room for individual intelligence, while also pulling it out of the abstract, academic space and into the practical, real world. (Berger)


Berger, Warren (2018) The Book of Beautiful Questions, Bloomsbury

Gardner, Howard (2006) Multiple Intelligences, New Horizons, Retrieved from 

Merriam S. B. & Bierema L. L. (2014) Adult Learning Linking Theory and Practice, Jossey-Bass

Paul, the Apostle (Translation 2016) 1 Corinthians, Berean Literal Study Bible, Bible Hub and Berean Bible, Retrieved from