Outliers (Part 3): Nose to the grindstone

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ten thousand hours.  That’s how long Gladwell claims it takes to gain expertise in any field.  According to his research, that’s how many hours outliers (successful people) invested before their careers took off. Ten thousand hours.  That’s a lot of hours. 
It’s a little nebulous though.  I was trying to figure out how many hours I’ve invested into getting a book published.  Do I count all the English classes I took starting in kindergarten?  Or do I start 13 years ago when I first thought about writing as a career?  Do I count the time it takes send out cover letters to agents and other aspects of the business?  How about the time I spend reading about writing?  How about the time I spend reading fiction?  The truth is that Gladwell’s outliers worked really, really hard for a long before they became successes and ten thousand hours sounds good.  People like numbers.  People believe numbers.
Gladwell’s equation for success is at least 120 IQ, a family and/or culture that with values conducive to succeeding in the field of interest at that particular time, luck, and hard work.   The only part of Gladwell’s equation that his outliers had any control over is the hard work.  So here’s the take home—you can’t control your family, your culture, your luck, your intelligence, but you can work crazy hard.  If you don’t you, won’t be an outlier; if you do, you probably still won’t, but you might.
So, you ask, how does this translate to the classroom?
Ah, glad you asked.  Gladwell holds up the Kipp Academy in New York City as an example of how hard work translates to success in the classroom.  Students at this public middle school are chosen by lottery from some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York.  Kipp Academy has been enormously successful at transforming at risk kids into college students.  How?  The school day is 7:25 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Then the students have several hours of homework each night, attend a half day of school on Sat.,  and attend a three week summer session.  These students work hard to compensate for not having the cultural legacy of success.  Wow.  
I am impressed by the dedication these kids demonstrate.  I’m grateful they have this opportunity.  But I’m sad that they have to trade in their childhoods for it. 
Kipp Academy stands on one end of the spectrum.  Kipp Academy makes a strong argument for year round schools.  Surely, summer break is a legacy from a long gone agricultural society.   Why do we still have it?  Do kids need breaks?  Yes.  Do they need a three-month break?  No.
I’ve always thought year around school would be beneficial in terms of retention and providing more but shorter breaks throughout the school year.  Studies indicate this isn’t true. However, Melissa Kelly aptly explains why such studies are inconclusive:  can you really isolate year around schools as the cause of any test score change when variables in the education process are so plentiful? Hmm…I admit to being puzzled.  I’d love to hear from teachers, parents, and students with experience in year around schooling.  What’s your take? 
The other obvious part of this discussion is the longer school day.  Wouldn’t it be great for family life, if the school day matched the standard 8-5 work day, but there was NO HOMEWORK (perhaps with the exception of reading and studying for tests)?  No more after school childcare expenses.  No more power struggles over homework.
Really, both year around schools and homework deserve a series of posts in and of themselves with more research on my part, but maybe this will get our juices flowing.
Did you miss Part 1 of this series?  Did you miss Part 2 of this series?  Check 'em out and share your thoughts.


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