A Multiple Intelligences Ecosystem

Open Fields School is a haven for the expression of Multiple Intelligences. Howard Gardner, in his book Multiple Intelligences, The Theory in Practice, makes a case that qualities of  human mind differ in ways that can be roughly categorized as verbal, kineaesthetic, musical, mathematical, etc, but in infinite combination. Schooling, by contrast, often assumes a developmental continuum but gives short shrift to individual differences. In an industrial model of education there is a product in mind, and the educational production system streams students through according to age and a chosen curriculum that may or may not engage their interests. The formation of children into grades is unnatural from a family or tribal point of view. It leads to artificial forms of competition, boredom in some, terror or indifference in others. Special Education adds insult to injury by removing the “special students” from the group for “treatment”.

In order to speak to individual differences, to engage the differing hearts and minds of students as they naturally are, it is necessary to create an educational environment that operates more as an ecosystem than a factory. An enriched free choice environment with children of different ages, outlooks, and abilities mixed together allows learning to happen on multiple, interconnected levels. It is like listening to a symphony as opposed to having to listen to a single, very tiring melody. This type of environment is one of the important components of Open Fields School and occurs in combination and alternation with classes that feature direct instruction in basic academic skills.

It is this combination of alternating formal instruction with the freewheeling, complex interactions of the multiaged group that I believe is the true genius of Open Fields School. Over the past 40 years hundreds of children have benefited from the vision of our Director, Jean Aull, who developed this curriculum in 1971.

It seems like common sense to Jean, but it is uncanny to read the research of  one such as Howard Gardner, and to see how the Open Fields School curriculum is designed to not only meet the needs of students with diverse intelligences, but to help them thrive!

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