More intelligent solution called for in Minister’s waistline war

(this essay published on self design in September 2007)

This month, close to half a million kids returned to BC schools, ushered along with news from the Ministry of Education that all students are to participate in a ‘rap-attack’ plan against their bulging waistlines.

Described by Minister of Education Shirley Bond as bold and aggressive, the new plan, she says, will help “create a culture of health in our schools and for our children,” through reducing junk food in schools and increasing physical activity for students.

On the surface this seems a pretty safe initiative to rally around and I commend government for doing what it has to turf junk food from schools, an initiative first proposed by the Green Party. But, personally, I think that prodding students to take phys-ed more seriously isn’t really going to do much to shift this situation and I think there’s a shortsightedness here that undermines this intention and reflects a much larger pothole in the Ministry’s game plan.

“Physical aptitude,” otherwise known as kinesthetic intelligence is a characteristic of professional athletes, olympian hopefuls, dancers, gymnasts, and others, too, like surgeons, landscapers, and tradespeople like welders and framers. Even plumbers require heightened physical skills (the good ones, anyways!).

We value these people in our society ergo we value physical intelligence. We also value musical intelligence, spatial intelligence (central to architecture and engineering) and a host of other intelligences (somewhere between 8 and 20 according to intelligence researchers).

What we need to do, and the Ministry of Education especially, is come out of the forest and acknowledge the existence of these various intelligences. Researchers have been verifying these intelligences under the guise of ‘Multiple Intelligences’ for more than 25 years but you’d never know it from tracking conventional schooling.

Why is this? Well, for starters, supporting MI in schools – equally for all students and without showing bias toward any particular intelligence – just doesn’t match the agenda behind conventional schooling, which continues to be dominated by Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. The 3 Rs roughly correspond to “Verbal/Linguistic” and “Logical/Mathematical” intelligence, which are swell intelligences on their own, but, to state the obvious, they only represent a fraction of the intelligences that are our birthright, and the birthright of our children.

A corollary to this is that there are many vested interests keen to sustain the prevailing practice of using schooling to sort for the intelligences that characterize the 3 Rs, and ignore or diminish any other track that supports other intelligences. Vested interest parties include science and technology industry representatives, university and college departments and vendors who prefer things just as they are.

In the end this adds up to a con job, with our children and our society the poorer for it. And returning to school this week, far too many students will be unfortunate participants in this game that will stretch over the next 10 months and attempt to convince them, directly and more subtly, that the 3 Rs are more important than other intelligences. It’s not true, they aren’t more important, though students aren’t likely to hear this from their core subject teachers, or even school administrators.

It’s time for schools to acknowledge the existence of many more intelligences than is presently the case, and to widely nurture the predilections for one or more intelligences (other than the 3Rs) that some students naturally favour, instead of ignoring them, or worse.

And to better support “healthier schools”, why can’t the Minister of Education come out and say something like this: “In the interests of supporting Multiple Intelligences and improved physical health, our government is taking steps to ensure that all students have improved opportunities to improve their physical and kinesthetic intelligence. To help achieve this, we are encouraging all schools to improve opportunities for students to enjoy biking, dancing, sports, noon-hour activities like frisbee and hackey-sac, gardening and other activities, in addition to physical education.”

Wouldn’t this go more toward creating a “culture of health” than attempting to enforce mandatory dodge ball or extra laps around a track in the rain?

– Michael Maser


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