“Success walks hand in hand with failure”

Outliers: the Story of SuccessIMG_2567

by Malcolm Gladwell, 2008


After I read this book late summer, I set it aside for a time   The contents of Outlier seemed challenging to absorb.  For a couple months now, I’ve been reading other books while letting the message in “Outliers” percolate.

I do agree with Malcolm Gladwell, Our culture does, in fact, values success. But then Gladwell suggests that maybe we value it too much.  Could we?

Is success less valuable than we think?  The path(s) to success depends on factors not always under our control. When were you born? What cultural ethics did your parents have?

“Success walks hand in hand with failure      Along Hollywood Boulevard.” “Celluloid Heroes” by The Kinks 1972



Featured image:  The three astronauts scheduled to make the first Apollo space flight were killed in 1967 when a fire took place in the capsule.  Above:  Crew of seven astronauts died in Challenger disaster

We seem to have rules for living our lives and we’ve built barriers to achieving success.. Without intending to, we continue traditions that sometimes arbitrarily block some people of finding “meaningful” work.

Gladwell’s examples include an epic tale of immigrants learning the garment industry in New York City. The hard work and luck combine with the skills of the individuals leading to future generations with more resources and even more opportunities.

And sometimes we arbitrarily build barriers in the path to opportunities. Gladwell’s example of the hockey team stars was interesting,

Players born closer to the cut-off for age class hockey had more opportunities to advance in hockey.   With a cut-off date on January 1, players born in January, February and March were more likely to succeed. The system was rigged against players born later in the year. More than half the population did not have the same opportunity as did those early-year babies.

I was born in September. The schools cut-off for kindergarten is 5 years of age on or before August 31. Was it an advantage for me to be in a class with mostly younger students?

Outliers makes me wonder what invisible barriers I’ve set-up in my class room.  So what do I do in my labs that might actually be limiting the opportunities for my students? What barriers have we buiit into the schools of the 21st century?  Here are some thoughts gleaned from “Outliers” that may or may not be pertinent to my classroom:

  • page 112: Concerted Cultivation of our Young vs. Natural Growth,   The latter appears to lack the community to prepare them properly for the world
  • page 176: My handwritten notes
    • Success arises from steady accumulation of advantages (when and where one was born, what parents did for a living, circumstances of upbringing,) Do traditions and attitudes from our ancestors play the same role?
  • page 197 Planes are safer when the east experienced pilot is flying
  • page 231: Being good at math may be rooted in one’s culture.
  • page 245: High School students asked how long they would work on a homework question before concluding it was too hard? 30 seconds to 5 minutes (avg 2 min)
  • page 253: “over study” was feared to be a cause of insanity.

“Not infrequently is health itself destroyed by over-stimulating the mind.”

—————Horace Mann:

  • page 254: Must student effort be balanced with student rest? Our cultural ideal is of letting field go fallow to get better harvest next season.
  • page 258: Rich kids advantage is how they learn when not in school!!
  • page 259: “The only problem with school for the kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.”
  • Handwritten note on an unnumbered page after the index.  I was watching NDTyson’s “Star Talk” on TV at the time: Tyson was interviewing Goodall and this is what I wrote:
    • Jane Goodall “Behavior doesn’t fossilize”

I enjoyed reading Outliers, Gladwell’s style of narration translates pleasingly into his writing style.  I listen to his podcast “Revisionist History. “ I was introduced to Gladwell’s ideas when Dr.Nido Qubein, President of High Point University interviewed him on local TV.

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