Pioneering psychotherapist Alfred Adler observed that children who misbehave are discouraged children. Adler also taught that individuals have unique interpretations of life that influence both how they perceive life and how they learn.
Not himself an Adlerian, but a believer in individual-centered education, developmental psychologist and professor Howard Gardner views people as having one or more types of intelligences—only some of which are valued in the traditional school system.
Here are the eight intelligences Gardner describes:
Verbal-linguistic: a mastery of language. Children with this tend to read and write well, and many will become teachers, journalists, writers, lawyers, translators, storytellers, and comedians. Most schools value and test for this type of intelligence.
Musical-rhythmic: a mastery of pitch, tone, timbre, and rhythm. Our culture currently minimizes the importance of this intelligence, but those with it thrive on composing and performing.
Mathematical-logical: innate skill for detecting patterns, reasoning deductively, and thinking logically. Because they can follow the logic of textbooks, this set of students thrives in the
traditional school system, and may go on to become mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, or scientists.
Visual-spatial: an uncanny ability to perceive the visual world accurately; these children love color and imagine the world differently from their schoolmates. That often gets them ostracized for nonconformity, and they typically struggle with standardized tests. But many will become painters, sculptors, designers, navigators, hunters, scientists, and architects.
Bodily-kinesthetic: special skill at manipulating objects and tools. They often can’t sit still for long; they love keeping their hands busy. They frequently fail where the above skills aren’t involved, but these are our society’s athletes, dancers, inventors, mimes, carpenters, plumbers, and sculptors.
Interpersonal: talent for understanding, perceiving, and discriminating between peoples’ moods, feelings, motives, and intelligences. Is it any surprise that this set of individuals provides our politicians, religious leaders, teachers, and therapists?
Intrapersonal: a remarkable ability to understand one’s self. These folks thrive on self-directed projects and self-paced learning. They’re highly contemplative, self-aware, imaginative, original, patient, disciplined, and motivated, with lots of self-respect.
Naturalist: fascinated by plants, animals, and other features of the earth. Sadly, these children often fail if not motivated or rewarded by such interests, but the persistent will become veterinarians, forest rangers, ecologists, farmers, animal trainers, and scientists.
Remember, no one is restricted to only one of the eight intelligences. And the point is, if schools and standardized tests focus on only two of the above, it leaves massive potential for others to
feel like failures despite their innate talents. Parents can correct for this simply by expanding their own viewpoint accordingly, and positively reinforcing those talents less valued at school. A very readable book on this topic is Pathways of Learning by David Lazear. Some parents go so far as to home-school or move their children to one of the many alternative schools that incorporate multiple intelligences into their philosophies.
Both research and anecdotal evidence indicate a tremendous success rate in charter and home schools that use an encouraging approach. Students labelled as failures in traditional schools thrive in environments where they are allowed to learn in their own way, often pursuing the arts in a non-competitive classroom. One educator even calls the traditional school a “worksheet wasteland,” an indictment on the high rate of students who suffer from a hatred of school and fail.

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.