| Ford Church

Eighth Intelligence

If you are an educator, you have probably heard of Howard Gardner and his theory of Multiple Intelligence. The seven types of intelligence include: Linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. By identifying the various types of intelligence, schools and educators can tailor their curriculum to develop all intelligences among youth. But what about our connection to the natural world? After all, humans have been evolving for approximately 2 million years and have been able to do so largely because of an intimate knowledge and connection with our natural environment.

Gardner later identified an Eighth Intelligence: Naturalist Intelligence, which describes an awareness of the natural world. The Cottonwood Institute develops educational programs and courses that are designed to develop the Eight Intelligence among high school students. According to Professor Leslie Owen Wilson, found in the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv (2005), youth with the Eighth Intelligence:

  • Have keen sensory skills, including sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Readily use heightened sensory skills to notice and categorize things from the natural world.
  • Like to be outside, or like outside activities like gardening, nature walks, or field trips geared toward observing nature or natural phenomena.
  • Easily notice patterns from their surroundings – likes, differences, similarities, anomalies.
  • Are interested in and care about animals or plants.
  • Notice things in the environment others often miss.
  • Create, keep, or have collections, scrapbooks, logs, or journals about natural objects – these may include written observations, drawings, pictures and photographs, or specimens.
  • Are very interested, from an early age in television shows, videos, books, or objects from or about nature, science, or animals.
  • Show heightened awareness of and concern for the environment and/or for endangered species.
  • Easily learn characteristics, names, categorizations, and data about objects or species found in the natural world. (Louv, 2005, p. 72-73).

Question: What is your opinion of the Eighth Intelligence? Do you think this is a priority in K-12 public/private education? Why or why not?

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10 Responses to “Eighth Intelligence”

  1. Ford Church

    Thanks for your comments James. I would invite you to take a closer look at the actual content standards for the CSAPs at: http://www.cde.state.co.us/index_stnd.htm. CSAPs measure: Civics, dance, economics, foreign language, geography, history, mathematics, music, physical education, reading and writing, science, theatre, and visual arts.

    If you re-read the Naturalist Intelligence bullet points above, I see direct links to CSAP standards in science, reading and writing, and physical education. If you get a little more creative, you could link Naturalist Intelligence to just about every content standard.

    So what is the real reason we resistant to Naturalist Intelligence?

  2. James

    Hey Ford, Naturalist intelligence is not a priority of public education because it is not measured on the CSAP, and is not tied to funding.

  3. Rick Medrick

    I agree totally with the notion of an Eighth Intelligence. In fact, I think
    it is an essential component of our survival as a species on this planet.
    It is also at the heart of Sustainability Education…and you know how I
    feel about this. I insist that you include this as one of the missions of
    the Cottonwood Institute…which then links us with the whole movement of
    getting back in touch with and respecting our roots in nature. I will share
    this missive with my Prescott PhD students in Sustainability Education.

    Good research! Rick

  4. Mikal

    I don’t know if this necessarily applies, but it seems to me that youth (as well as adults too, I suppose) can develop Eighth Intelligence-like characteristics from watching television, can’t they? With all of the programming–especially on cable–that features natural environments, and lessons surrounding environmental-like ethics, can’t one just as easily develop these same traits from watching television? Seems absurd, I know, but I’d bet you dollars to donuts that there are people out there who have never once stepped even a foot into Wilderness, who despite that fact, have developed the Eighth Intelligence.

    Not that that’s what you were asking, but still, an interesting twist nonetheless, I think.

    As to the question itself, no, I do not think the Eighth Intelligence is a priority in either the public or private school setting. If it were, well, both public and private schools would operate a lot differently than they currently do. That having been said, individual schools and school districts have made the Eighth Intelligence a priority (take the Houston Independent School District for example… every single one of the District’s 5th graders spend at least three nights and four days at an outdoor education center whose curriculum—knowingly or unknowingly—serves to develop Eighth Intelligence traits).

    Why do I think the Eighth Intelligence is not a priority for the overwhelming majority of the nation’s K-12 public/private educational institutions? Well, without doing any research, per se, I’d have to offer up what I call the “3-F Theory” (it’s my own, by the way): Fear, Funding, and Fog.

    1. Fear: of the unknown or the reportedly known.

    2. Funding: or lack thereof, or prioritized differently.

    3. Fog: as in, it’s too foggy to see clearly on the issue of Naturalist Intelligence.

  5. Ford Church

    Thanks for your comments Mikal. I do think that television and other media outlets can be a tool to help develop Naturalist Intelligence, but I don’t think that it should be the only technique. That gets into the soul of experiential education. I can describe what ice cream tastes like and show videos of ice cream, but that can not compare to the experience of actually tasting it.

    I like your ideas about the 3-F Theory that fear, funding, and fog are reasons why Naturalist Intelligence is not a priority in education. I think it also has to do with the fact that teachers themselves are overcommitted, underpaid, and physically drained to go that extra mile to create and coordinate the educational experiences that will help develop Naturalist Intelligence.

  6. materp

    It really depends how your classify knowledge Mikal. Yes, it is true that a person watching television could develop declaritive knowledge, but even Gardner would argue that that is insufficiant.
    If you look at the Jefferson County Colorado School District, they have added Naturalistic Intelligence to their teachings. This occurred as early as 1982, when Mt. Evens Sixth grade outdoor field camp opened. Shortly after they opened Windy Peak, and while it is not much…..it is something.
    Intelligences also might not be the sole responisibility of the schools….how do the parents fit into the equation?
    At the same time, is it possible that the eigth intelligence is not emphasized because teachers lack the procedural knowledge, and the conditional knowledge needed to actually teach to their students?

    It is good see you both thinking and pushing the envelope.
    Mat Erpelding

  7. susan Faris

    Yes I have always felt that our public school systems need to focus more on our imediate surroundings. The good news is that in the last 40 years we have started to do this more and more. The governement passed the clean water and air acts back in the 1970’s, which is a begining but not the end. I grew up on a ranch in southern Colorado and when ever my brothers or myself would bring some of our friends from the city to come experience our ranch you could see how greatly these people were effected, ( in a positive way). It was always a learning experience for them and they would walk away with a greater appreciation for nature. I not only feel that nature is a good learning experience, it is also a place for a person to relax and take the time to learn about themselves. We should all conect with our surroundings and realize that what we have is a privilage that needs to be taken care of.

  8. Crystal B

    I wanted to comment about an earlier comment on if tv can develop this inteligence. I think we are pre disposed to these inteligences and if this is in your nature then it will be saticfying to see but may not develop your sences, but imagine if those people were able to step foot in the woods. I do not think you have to go in to the woods to experience nature. Go outside and sit on a park bench or go for a walk in the park. Put a blanket on the ground and look at the stars. If one is predisposed they will start to notice the nature around them. Kinda like when you get a diffrent car. You start to notice all the cars that are like yours. If you look you will see.

  9. sree

    i am very much in favor of this 8 intelligence…and as a profesor in education and basically a post graduate in botany..i am very much interested in fostering this among the seconary level students…in this age of environmental issues, i think it is the need of the hour…i am also interested in doing research work related to this intelligence…

  10. Diane Cameron

    Where children grow up matters when it comes to honoring and developing the Eighth Intelligence. Whether their home and school are in neighborhoods with natural areas that are safe and accessible, makes a big difference. I love your equation Gift + Issue = Change. For children, the first Issue is their encounter with local Nature, and often the second issue is awareness of a threat to their tree, woods, field, desert, stream, or bog. If they have frequent exposure to form the relationship with a special place, and some social support to find their voice and take creative action, then they are empowered.

    I grew up in Massachusetts in a suburb, with woods behind us and a meadow across the street from us. Both were “my” natural places. Now, both those woods, and that meadow, are full of streets and houses. I wonder if the children who live there now get enough free-play time in the remnant woods.

    The city greening movement (a.k.a. Green Infrastructure movement) gives more children the chance to form Nature relationships, even if they live in a high-rise apartment building. Maybe their building has a green roof, intensive vegetable gardening, beekeeping? Maybe their neighborhood has a community garden, where they can grow native tree seedlings? Linking Nature to Health and basic needs like food seems really key.

    If they are growing native aspen or cottonwoods from seed, and you take them into the mountains where they see aspen stands, they will feel a direct connection between their own lives and the lives of these ecosystems. The concepts you teach will then make sense to them on a deep level.


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