Monday, April 13, 2009

Outliers by Malcomb Gladwell

When a friend first told me about Outliers , I was not impressed. Over and over we've heard "It's not my fault. It's my parents, or my race, or my school, or whatever." I never questioned that some have advantages others don't, be it innate intelligence, family connections, luck, or what have you. But, it always seemed to me, that blaming others for your own shortcomings is to guarantee prolonging and exacerbating those shortcomings.

I still believe that, but Gladwell's book, I must admit, gives one pause. He begins by using statistics on the Canadian Hockey league to drive home a very simple point. The month an aspiring hockey player is born plays a huge role in whether or not the talented player will make it to a professional level. Gladwell doesn't deny talent, but the statistics are inescapable. The vast majority of professional hockey players have birthdays that fall within a narrow range of months. When a new class of youngsters begin to play hockey, the oldest within that group have advantages.

The reason is simple. The slight difference in age at that stage of a boy's life, results in significant differences in size and ability. And once a child gets labeled as either a star or a mediocre player within the youth leagues, that label tends to stay with him. The better players get more playing time, more coaching, and end up on the top amateur teams. From those elite teams, come the professionals.

Gladwell takes this same premise and applies it to education, and other disciplines. He uses examples such as Bill Gates and others in support of his Outlier theory.

It's an interesting and thought provoking book. The only issue or question that I have with Mr. Gladwell's work, is that although he makes a point of almost always giving talent, hard work, and ability credit, I get the feeling that he doesn't really believe it. In other words, he over emphasizes, in my opinion, the environmental and situational circumstances, and in the process, minimizes the individual accomplishments.

That being said, it's a book that I've recommended to almost everyone I know that teaches school. There's no question, that labeling a child at an early age, is a dangerous process, because he or she may actually believe that they are somehow, less able than those labeled more highly. And, it reiterates the sober duty that parents and grandparents have to both discipline and encourage a child to discover and maximize their innate gifts and talents.

Eddie M.

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