"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Friday, July 30, 2010

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

One of the most interesting and profound books I've read this year.

Please pardon a little bit of blogging tossed in with a little bit of book reviewing - it's not my normal style.

I am a high school teacher and we are, as a school, busily studying the racial achievement gap that exists on all (if not all, it is almost, almost, almost all) standardized tests across the country. Currently, I am bucking my school system by insisting it is not a racial gap but rather a failure of the culture of the school to attune itself to the culture of our African-American and Hispanic students. A cultural gap, as it were.

To me this is no simple issue of semantics - if the gaps are cultural they can be overcome by re-tooling and learning new strategies. If the gaps in achievement truly are racial - based on inherited characteristics from our genetic code, well, what's the point of trying, really? (To be honest, I think they are using race as a simplistic code word for culture, but this is dangerous game to play, in my opinion).

Malcolm Gladwell
Anyway, Malcolm Gladwell backs up my arguments in chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 with interesting analyses that shed light on the importance of learned culture on success and behaviors. I recommended this book to a member of the leadership team that is leading these discussions and he was intrigued enough to pick up the book and start reading.

The other way that this book was meaningful was its emphasis on the role of practice in achieving success. 10,000 hours - the magic number when it takes to become a Mozart or The Beatles or Bill Gates or Michael Jordan. Note the emphasis on the individual here - you too can be a master of your chosen field with just enough practice! Sort of democratizing isn't it? This is blended together with cultural legacies in Chapter 9 to show how culture can encourage that sense of purpose in an individual.

Anyway, I have a student teacher who will be a very good teacher one day and I spoke with her about the value of practice and experience. She won't be a master teacher in her first year, but those hours in the classroom will add up and she will be one day. Well, it sounds less profound here, written down. Believe me, it was inspiring when I spoke about it.

So, in short, this is a heckuva interesting book. I devoured it. It gave me a lot to ruminate about.

Highly recommended.

I rated this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on March 19, 2010.

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