Monday, April 5, 2010

Outliers

Outliers: 1: something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.
2: a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from others of the sample.

I read Outliers last week by Maxwell Gladwell. I've heard of his stuff before, just didn't know it was him. You know, it takes 10,000 hours (10 years of dedicated study) to really be an expert at anything? This book is a look at excellence and what creates that.
The first half of the book focses on outliers, some familiar, some not: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy. Geniuses with unique opportunities in unique places, living in unique times (often incredibly specific times). Their stories capture our imaginations because they seized opportunities, created success, invented something from seemingly nothing. Having a genius I.Q. is no guarantee of anything, as Gladwell points out; the excellent person adds dedication and perseverance to natural qualities which allows them to excel beyond wild expectation. Gladwell talks about the importance of a family circumstances, parents resourcing their children, gifting them with an appropriate sense of entitlement, juxtaposed with letting kids fend for themselves and "figuring it out on their own." He shows a stunning example of lost opportunities in the life of Chris Langdon.
The second half of the book is about creating exclusive opportunities- often in the face of devastating circumstances. The turn-around of Korean Air and the KIPP program; in other words Legacy. I was especially intrigued by the chapter on "Rice Paddies and Math Tests," or, more specifically, why Asian countries seem to smoke at math compared to the rest of the world and how important words are, even as one counts. The chapter on KIPP (Knowledge is Power- an initiative in New York's inner city public schools) was right up my education-obssessed alley, and talks about creating an environment of academic excellence despite cultural legacies of drug abuse, welfare and sky-high drop out rates. These educators are creating time as well as places for kids to excel. Think Rafe Esquith in New York.
And of course, one cannot help but apply this thinking to their own lives as they read: what, if anything have I dedicated time and study to? In my case, it's been child-rearing, teaching, training kids, family systems, eductaion/learning. Perhaps cooking. Art in many forms (pottery, stained glass, needlework, paper craft), homemaking skills. Nothing particularly earth changing, except to the small circle of people I've shared my life with. As someone else pointed out in a discussion about this book, we aren't all called to be experts, and we won't all have 10 years of dedicated time and energy to devote to a singular cause. Perhaps a more reasonable goal than becoming an expert, though not an easy one, is this: “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
My older daughters and I have had several discussions over the years about "standing on the shoulders" of those who have gone before, and the last chapter of Gladwell's book is this concept in living color. Covey addressed the same concept by stating that we aren't just raising our kids, we are, indeed, raising our grand children, which fits in again with Biblical Truth, that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the 3rd and 4th generation, but the blessings will extend to the 1000th (Exodus 20:6). Our lives, expert or not, will influence those who come after us.
And, lastly, by definition, homeschoolers are outliers. Homeschooling is a unique method of education, in a place (mainly America), at a specific time (since the late 70's) by a unique group of people. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, this group of people changes and impacts their world as they mature into adulthood.
10,000 hours is 10 years of dedicated study and practice. Cultural legacies that shape and define us. Unique opportunities during unique times and places in history. Fascinating reading.

1 comment:

Heather J. said...

Thanks for giving me the link to your review - we definitely agree on this book! I especially loved the section about ice hockey since my son plays (and he has a January birthday! LOL)

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