Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. Boston: Little, Brown.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell looks at all of the factors that must come together if one is to become a true “outlier.” He defines an outlier as a person whose success falls outside normal experience, and looks at many different examples of just such people. Some of the deciding factors include:
• A person’s birthdate, which can affect the age in which they start school, sports, etc...
• A person’s willingness to practice- ten thousand hours for expertise.
• A person’s ability to have a combination of both general intelligence and “practical intelligence.”
• A person’s social status, in particular, coming from a middle or upper class family who parent in a style that fosters a child’s talents and abilities.
• A person’s cultural background.
• A person’s persistence and willingness to work much harder than others.
• Being in the right place at the right time, and seizing the opportunities that are presented.
I was completely intrigued by Gladwell’s findings on success. He uses an exhaustive list of resources to meld together many factors that contribute to success. Although the book is not written specifically for use in education, there are many examples in the book from education, and many more applications for his theories for education. Some of the factors are inherent, but there are many factors that can be cultivated by reform in education.

Relevant Quotes/Concepts:
“A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of that year--- and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelve-month gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity.” 24.
The same can be said of the December 1st cut-off date for entry to Kindergarten in California. Students born on or after Dec. 2nd will be in a classroom with students who may have up to a twelve-month gap in physical, emotional, and intellectual maturity.
“But most parents, one suspects, think that whatever disadvantages a younger child faces in kindergarten eventually goes away. But it doesn’t. … It locks children in to patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years.” 28
“Elementary and middle schools could put January through April-born students in one class, the May through August in another class, and those born September through December in a third class. They could let students learn with and compete against other students of the same maturity level.” 33
“The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” 39-40
“To Sternberg, practical intelligence includes things like “knowing what to say to whom, and knowing when to say it for maximum effect.” …And, critically, it is a kind of intelligence separate from the sort of analytical ability measured by IQ. … the presence of one doesn’t imply the presence of the other.” 101
“Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style “concerted cultivation.” It’s an attempt to actively “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions, and skills.” Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of “accomplishment of natural growth.” They see their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own.” 104
“Alex has those skills because over the course of his young life, his mother and father--- in the manner of educated families--- have painstakingly taught them to him, nudging and prodding and encouraging and showing him the rules of the game, right down to that little rehearsal in the car on the way to the doctor’s office.” 108
“The As overwhelmingly came from the middle and upper class. Their homes were filled with books. Half the fathers of the A group had a college degree or beyond… The Cs on the other hand, ere from the other side of the tracks.” 112
Here Gladwell is discussing the cultural differences of students who were determined to have exceptionally high IQs at the age of five or six. He tracked them in to adulthood and divided them in to three groups: As: The top twenty percent, he success stories, college graduates, lawyers, doctors, etc.. Bs: The middle 60 percent who were doing “satisfactorily” Cs: The bottom 150 who had done the least with their “superior mental ability.”
“The most important consequence of the miracle of the garment industry, though, was what happened to the children growing up in those homes where meaningful work was practiced. … [They learned that] if you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.” 151
“We took them out of their cultural and re-normed them. …That is an extraordinarily liberating example. “ 220
“it turns out that there is also a big difference in how number-naming systems in Western and Asian languages are constructed. …That difference means that Asian children learn to count much faster than American children. …American children are already a year behind their Asian counterparts in the most fundamental of math skills. … When it comes to math, in other words, Asians have a built-in advantage.” 229-230
“Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.” 246
“When it comes to reading skills, poor kids learn nothing when school is not in session. The reading scores of rich kids, by contrast, go up by a whopping 52.49 points” [during the summer.] 258
“Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. …Nor is simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities--- and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them. …They were born at the right time with the right parents and the right ethnicity.” 267-268


Stacey Caillier said...

I loved this book! I'm so glad to see it here - so relevant to education and all we do! Thanks Jennifer!

Sverige said...

Gladwell has a way of presenting social psychology through a very engaging format. The main thesis of this book is that success is an accumulation of advantages, coupled with the "10,000 hour rule." The book does get to be repetitive, but is entertaining enough to make it feel worth it.

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