Mindy Kornhaber, associate professor of educational theory and policy at Penn State, recently had a unique opportunity in television.
Kornhaber served as a consultant to "Canada’s Smartest Person," a two-hour prime-time television show on the Canadian national network CBC. The show aired nationally in Canada on March 18.
The show used the concept of multiple intelligences as a means of measuring the aptitude of four contestants. The contestants competed in activities that were based on the different kinds of intelligence.
Kornhaber’s expertise in multiple intelligences led to her involvement with the program. She was recommended to the show’s producers by Howard Gardner, a Harvard University professor who first identified the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983. As Kornhaber explained, the theory states that intelligence is not a unitary ability -- commonly referred to as “general intelligence” -- which is used across all problem solving. Instead, she said, all human beings possess several “relatively autonomous” intelligences, which are used in varying combinations to solve problems.
“The show sought to draw on Gardner’s theory and thereby provide the public with ideas about intelligence beyond IQ,” said Kornhaber. “The show’s writers and producers sent me scripts and other materials over the course of a few months to see if these reasonably reflected Gardner’s theory. I provided feedback on these things.”
Kornhaber has done extensive research in the area of multiple intelligences, including a comprehensive 41-school study across 18 states. That research showed an association between schools’ use of the theory and improvements in students’ behavior and learning and also in parent participation in school activities..
“Although I’d seen practical applications of Gardner’s theory through my research in schools, the use of the theory in television was an entirely different experience for me,” Kornhaber noted. “Mass media generally do not operate under the same constraints as the academy or K-12 schooling.”
Kornhaber added that, “On the one hand, this new experience gave me a great appreciation for the freedom and creativity of those working on the show -- their ability to run with ideas. I also saw that it takes a kind of wizardry to coordinate the many different activities and skills that go into making a show. At the same time, I came away with a renewed appreciation for the constraints and discipline of academic work and the opportunities it affords for deep thinking. The experience with the CBC has left me thinking about the relative reach and content of the two different spheres and the many possibilities for bridging these.”