I watched an interview on CBC News Sunday (see the above address). Malcolm Gladwell has written a book titled The Outliers. His book is a look at what makes people succeed at what they do - specifically, those people, or groups of people, who achieve beyond anyone's imagination. Outlier is the phenonema that lies outside of normal experience. His book is a look at some of the factors of success that have not been considered before. Some of the factors, he says, is your birth date, institutional factors and the culture you are born into. If you are born in the first three months of the year you stood a better chance than your peers in school.
Taking hockey as an example, the cut-off date for first class hockey is January 1st and the process for finding the talent starts to happen for kids at 8-9 years of age who will end up being chosen for the rep squads. Now, at 8-9 years of age, who are the stroger kids? The ones born at the beginning of the year. So what we think of as a system set up to identify the stronger, more talented people often turns out to be a system that favours early birthdays. These kids start to get extra coach support, practice time and play more games then other kids their age. In the end, Gladwell says, is that this stronger group just keeps getting stronger becasue of the practice time etc. and those bornin the later half of the year will not catch up. INTERESTING... Gladwell looked at a vareity of hockey teams in the NHL and other leagues. On one team he found 60% of hockey players have their birthdays in the first four months of the year. One idea he suggests is possiby having two leagues for those in the first half of the year and those in the second hal of the year so that all children are given equal opportunity to develop their potential. Gladwell believes that if this occurred that it would double the amount of kids that are good in hockey. INTERESTING...
Another factor - it takes 10,000 hours of pratice to excel at any complex task. Taking the Beatles, for instance, who did hours and hours of practice in clubs before they hit it big. Another example he gives is Bill Gates who happened to go to a school in 1968 which had a computer terminal - rare for that time. Gates gets his 10,000 hours of practice in before he even goes to college.
Gladwell believes that there are ethnic differences in achievement. However, he takes a look at they why, beyond the genetics. First of all he believes that looking at genetics is silly. He looks to the culture to help explain the differences. Asians, for example, excel in math. He believes it is because of the cultural attitude and work ethic. North American children give up a lot sooner than Asian children when figuring out a difficult math problem. Gladwell believes that this is because of the cultural differences in sticking to something until you figure it out. It comes from the history of the rice crop. Growing rice is very labour intensive and through the passing of the years has instilled in the Asian population a patience and sticktuitiveness. INTERESTING...
What else does this theory effect? How we look at education, particularly when it comes to the disadvantaged populations. Poor kids do worse because they do not have the amount of time with reading etc. that advantaged children have, especially during the summer. School is good for kids. It's just that poor children do not get enough of it. Japanese children go to school for 245 days in the year compared to 180 in North America. Gladwell believes that we should extend the school year in order that the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged can close.
I think he has a lot of interesting ideas. What do you think?