Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

I listened to the audio book version of this (read by the author who did a very good job) and couldn’t stop talking about it to . . . well, anyone who would listen. The book is about what makes some people really stand out . . . and some of our misconceptions about what it takes to be successful.

Perhaps the most interesting issue Gladwell raised is the one about professional hockey players: professional hockey players in Canada are almost all born in the first 3 months of a calendar year because Dec. 31 is the cutoff date each year for kids hockey. That means at age 5, a kid born in January is significantly “older” and has more physical dexterity than a kid born in Dec. The “older” kids tend to outperform the younger kids at very young ages. So guess which kids on any given team get more playing time? more of a coach’s attention? get chosen for all-star teams or special league mentoring/play? By the time a January-born hockey player reaches high school, the cumulative effect of the extra attention and coaching is that most professional hockey players in Canada are born in the first 3 months of the year. Since this represents only about 25% of Canada’s population, how much athletic potential is not being developed because a December-born 5-year-old doesn’t have what it takes to compete with a January-born 5-year-old?

According to Gladwell this happens all over the world, in many areas of life. And the ramifications reach far beyond professional sports . . . one of Gladwell’s points is that we tend to do the same thing in education. We begin “tracking” kids at very young ages. What percentage of any country’s given population is not getting the time or attention it needs to be successful academically? What if we created pre-school/kindergarten and primary grade classrooms based on partial years e.g. Jan-Apr kids in one class, May-Aug kids not only in another class but starting school at a different time e.g. when they are actually 5 rather than 5 by Dec. 31? At least until “age” becomes less of a factor in a student’s likely ability to “compete” or keep pace with his or her peers (which begins to happen at about 9 or 10 years of age)?

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3 Responses to “Outliers by Malcom Gladwell”

  1. jd smith Says:

    Great points K. Our daughter was born in November and was a month early at that- so by all accounts she should be behind the curve. She was a very late crawler, walker and has little interest in potty training even after turning three. Yet, she began forming words at two months and has a vocabulary and conversational skills today that I think could rival the average American adult. She can’t seem to grasp the concept of how to ride a tricycle but has always been able to catch, throw and kick a ball.

    I am always proud but also slightly uncomfortable by how advanced she is socially when we are around her peers. I can sense the dis ease it causes the parents. I try to remind them it all evens out in the long run, but we shall see.

    I like the idea of classes created for peers but philosophically speaking how do we really determine “peers” if each child grows at different rates in different areas? Seems so often to be all politics in the world and all individual to each family.

    I’ve often been drawn to supporting ideas that create equality or at the least the opportunity for it and yet, I also question how creative concepts influence the natural order of evolution and what in the end serves the highest good for all concerned. I don’t know but it’s always fun to have something new to think about.

  2. Karen Andring Says:

    You raise good questions and points . . . nothing will ever remove each child’s own individuality. They will always proceed at their own pace. But perhaps a standardized test score in 2nd grade shouldn’t be the defining factor for which students get admitted to gifted programs (often for the rest of their academic career) here in the US. I think Gladwell uses one of the Scandnavian countries as example. I think he said they don’t start “school” until kids are 7 and they don’t begin “testing” until students are like 9 or 10.

  3. azreader Says:

    Sort of off-topic. I was watching tv at 4:30 am (don’t ask) and caught part of an nterview that Malcolm Gladwell did with Brian Lamb on CSPAN . Gladwell is promoting his newest book “What the Dog Saw” so what I saw was mostly about this. He’s really interesting to listen to, very well-spoken and entertaining. At the end of the show they mentioned a DVD of the interview you could purchase, but also said something about a Podcast so I’m going to see if I can find it.

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