Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers

Review From User :

Gladwell argues that success is tightly married to opportunity and time on task. He states that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to master something and that gives me comfort. It helps me feel better about my many failures at initial attempts to master things (like glazing pottery, algebra, Salsa dancing, skiing and sewing... to name a few). I kept thinking, "I've just got to put in more hours if I want to do better."

While I can see a different way of spinning the data provided to support Gladwell's argument, I didn't care. In a rare moment, I found myself not wanting to argue. : ) Instead, I found myself reflecting on things that have felt like lucky opportunities in my own life. This reflection was very humbling.

Moreover, I felt the text tugging at the need for greater equity. What could all the people with limited opportunities do if given greater opportunities Think Darfur. How many people who might have come up with the cure for pancreatic cancer been forced to spend their time standing in lines waiting for clean water or food

My own personal experience as a teacher of refugees reflects Gladwell's primary thesis. Many of my refugee students are pre-literate. They have not been given the opportunity to gain a formal education. As a result, there are many well-intended, but misinformed people who place these students in special education courses or deem their I.Q. low, diminishing their opportunities even more.

The students I teach are hungry for skills and spend hours outside of class practicing. They make huge gains despite earlier opportunities denied them. While many will not go on to big colleges out of high school, I feel like given enough opportunity and time they could make it there. Sadly, many have families who depend on them to work to help financially support the family. (Yet, another limited opportunity to spend time focused on developing skills.)

In the past week, I have shared Gladwell's thesis with my students. We have applied the 10,000 hours to master a task to reading and writing. I remind students that if we don't get our 10,000 hours this year together, they must continue on their own. I remind them that it IS possible to move forward if they are focused and keep adding hours of work to their reading and writing. We even write on the board how many hours left before we are masters.

"2 hours down, only 9,998 left to go."

Friday, I had a student from Somalia smile and ask, "So it's not true that white people are smarter than black Africans They just get more chances to read" Imagine my pleasure when I could respond, "YES! That's correct. You are just as smart as any white kid in this school. It's just that some of them have been reading for years and you are just getting started."

Thank you for your work Galdwell, it is salient in today's political conversation surrounding education (especially for our most vulnerable students who have been given the fewest opportunities).

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