Reading Daniel Ariely’s Predictably Irrational. I like his suggestion that we might all be an ‘agglomeration of multiple selves.’ This seems to me to fit with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and a phenomenological position in philosophy – as well as my own experience.
For surely none of us has exactly one type of intelligence. We have, in varying degrees, mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, visual intelligence and so on, and each of these will overlap and interact within us in uniquely individual ways. And for sure the way in which we are intelligent is deeply connected to our personalities. If I have no sporting intelligence it is hard for me to relate to issues of sport, sport will not feature much in my life, I will feel little empathy towards people who are concerned with sport and so sport will play little part in who I am.
On a personal note, I find Ariely’s suggestion comforting. Perhaps there is no such as a ‘fully integrated human being’, he suggests (this is in the chapter on arousal in which he shows that the decisions we make when aroused – the people we become, if you like – are markedly different to the decisions we make when not aroused). If we cannot hope to be fully integrated all the time, then it is understandable if we switch from being someone passionate about literature, to someone passionate about sport, to a mathematician, a politician and so on. Of course there must be some kind of overall integrating factor, otherwise a kind of multiple schizophrenia, a fragmentation follows which is destructive to the self. But if we accept that a total amount of integration will be limited at some level, this can reduce our anxiety that we are not this type of person or that type of person – and the reduced anxiety is beneficial in itself.
How does this relate to teaching?
Well I think those of us with multiple intelligences (and who is not like this, at least to some degree?) and therefore multiple selves should take heart. For whatever type of learners we may teach – be they visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, to use the usual descriptions – we should be able to find some way to reach our students, drawing from our own intelligences and from within our multiple selves. If talking about something clearly, using our love of literature and verbal intelligence doesn’t work, we can try drawing pictures, using diagrams and symbols or creating shapes with our hands to get the point across.
I have often been surprised by the criticism ‘Oh, he speaks this way to some people and another way to other people’, when the complaint is not that the person is saying different things, merely that the way he is saying them differs according to his audience. But surely this is precisely what we should all attempt to do? It is no use to me if a biochemist tries to explain gene function to me in the same way as she would to an international conference on her subject. It is no use to me if a theologian starts by assuming I know much of the bible verbatim and am a convinced orthodox Christian. Whomever we talk to we should seek to pitch the way we speak to the level of understanding we think is appropriate, and this may involve us drawing on our multiple intelligences for the right metaphors, analogies and examples.
This is also a question of empathy.
If you have in your personality, as it were, a bit of the musician, a bit of the engineer and a bit of the linguist, then it is almost certainly easier for you to empathise with musicians, engineers and linguists. You cannot help then but know a little more of where they are ‘coming from’. This will help you to understand what approaches and examples will help these sorts of thinkers or practitioners to learn. A blog on empathy in teaching is due. Anyone have any thoughts on this before I offer my own views?