I pulled into the parking lot in front of an Auto Zone needing two new windshield wiper blades. One came off easily, the other tore up my right thumbnail after repeated failures to remove it. I gave up, carried the one into the store, and walked up to the counter. 

The girl with the butterfly tattoo on the back of her right hand was hunched over her phone in front of the cash register. 

“Can you help me?” I asked. 

“What do you need?” 

“I need two new wiper blades and I can’t get the other one off.” 

“Where’s your car?” 

“In the lot,” I replied. 

“You will have to pull it up right in front of the store. What make and model is it?” 

“Subaru Forester, 2010.” 

I gave her the blade in my hand and went to get the car. Two minutes later, I pulled up to the front of the store. She has two wiper blades in her hands, and I get out of the car. In less than a minute, I have two new blades. 

“Did you learn this in shop class in high school?” I asked her. 

“No, they taught me everything right here.” 

She never rolled her eyes, never gave me look, never treated me like the helpless male I was. Her interpersonal skills were perfect. I tipped her $10. 

This fall, more than two million American kids will enter college as freshmen. To get there they probably took an SAT exam to measure their verbal and mathematical competence. Words and numbers. They applied because everyone told them you won’t get far without a college degree. And the better your scores (in words and numbers) the better the colleges that will offer you enrollment. 

And, of course, the better the college you attend, the more likely you will experience success in your future. Sound familiar?

Howard Gardner has written the classic book on multiple intelligences (Frames of Mind). In addition to Linguistic (words) and Logical-mathematical (numbers), the other seven intelligences are Spatial-visual, Musical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Naturalistic, and Existential. While we can argue whether these are “intelligences,” “gifts,” or “talents,” we each have a unique profile, rating extremely high on some, average on others, and pitifully low on hopefully only a few.

So let’s imagine a different world. What if those two million students who show up this fall are told their verbal and math scores no longer count. Your classwork will provide a rich selection of art, music, physical education, botany, self-awareness, and leadership classes to choose from. By focusing on those rather than just two kinds of intelligence, you will actually have a much better chance of being, and feeling, successful. It is our mission to help you succeed. Enjoy your studies, your teachers, your classmates, and your experience.

With the shoe now on the other foot, imagine the excitement so many freshmen would feel, whose real talents were not verbal or math, when they realize that finally someone truly values their talents and will do everything to develop those gifts. Imagine the deadening disappointment of those with high verbal and math scores as they come to realize their talents are no longer considered important. The shoe is now on the other foot.

A third of all high school seniors will never go to college, and of those who do, 40% will never finish. Is it possible that the third who never go, apart from obvious financial reasons, know right off that words and numbers are just not their thing? Is it possible that even those who did have the courage to start eventually quit when they realized that their real gifts were being completely ignored? Worse still is the real tragedy of those who spend four expensive years hating the entire experience, taking courses that do nothing to nurture, strengthen, and reward their true talents. How many students with high verbal and math skills would be in that 40% number if school treated them with the same indifference it now treats those with the seven other kinds of intelligence?

Who do you think would be more interested in majoring in “Leadership and Community Building: History, Methods, and Skills,” the kid who loves calculus or the kid who can read a room? How in the world does it make sense to devote expensive resources to one and ignore the other when they are equally bright and equally needed in our world? If we force kids who are good with their hands (craftspeople, sculptors) or have tremendous body control (athletes, dancers) to “love” Shakespeare’s sonnets, is that somehow better than forcing kids who are great writers or mathematicians to learn how to carve beautiful statues from blocks of wood or dribble down court and shoot three pointers? Yet that’s exactly what we do.

Did the girl with the butterfly tattoo really need to know the importance of the Rosetta Stone or the power of Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech? Or be able to provide the next number in a Fibonacci series or explain the beauty of the golden ratio? Maybe her real genius was in rejecting the notion of what you “have to do” to be successful, and finding genuine success, and happiness, in a setting that maximized support and development for her unique profile of spatial-visual, bodily-kinesthetic, and interpersonal intelligences. Maybe, too, she was fully supported in that decision by those people important to her.

When Tom Brady takes a snap from center, falls back into the pocket, reads the defense, and releases a pass in 2.17 seconds, throwing the ball not to the receiver but to the place where the receiver will be in another 2 or 3 seconds, how can we see that as anything other than spatial-visual and bodily-kinesthetic genius?

When your car (any make, model, or year) is sick with a cough (making strange noises) or a fever (warning lights are flashing on your dashboard), you take it to your favorite mechanic who, in 24-48 hours will “diagnose” the problem, order the proper “medication” (parts), and perform the required “surgery” (replacement) so you are up and running again. A place like Auto Zone is his pharmacy and medical supply house. Is his skill really any less because his hands are greasy and his nails not manicured?

I have in my garden a handful of orange milkweed and butterfly bushes visited regularly by Monarchs. I have in my head a tremendous respect and admiration for the girl with the butterfly tattoo who has found both her gifts and the environment in which they can be developed and honored. I have in my heart the hope, for those reading this who are just embarking on life’s journey, that you take time to realize what your gifts are and seek the best environment, whether that be a “Harvard” or an “Auto Zone,” in which to nurture them. 

And for those entrusted with the “care and feeding” of these young voyagers, that you help them explore, understand, and honor their unique profile of gifts and provide every ounce of encouragement as they develop them, no matter which of the nine equal gifts they are.

When the day comes where the senior partner at a corporate law firm can brag about his car mechanic son as honestly as a plumber can brag about his Harvard Med School daughter, then, and only then, will we finally respect the full range of equally important but very different gifts bestowed on mankind. Dedicated to the true genius in each and every person, and to the hope you discover it, nurture it, are supported in it, and enjoy it, this one’s for you — and for those who care about you.

For more information, go to www.simplypsychology.org/multiple-intelligences.

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