Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (finished)

I just finished Outliers, The Story Of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.

An outlier is (1) something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body or (2) a statistical  observation  that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.  For example, let's say you ask 100 people to run a mile as fast as they can and you time them.  Some people will run the mile in 5 minutes or less; others will run the mile in 15 minutes or more.  But most people will run the mile in about 10 to 12 minutes.  The people that run the mile in less than 5 or more than 15 minutes are outliers; the statistical data that is outside the main distribution of the data.

Gladwell tries to explain why certain people are successful in life and other are not.

As a high school teacher, I would say that most of my students think that smart people succeed.  It's as simple as that.  But Gladwell says the data and research says otherwise; smart is not enough.  People who succeed are more a product of their environment and "luck" than on only their innate talent.

For example, he says that Jewish people are successful today in the united states, not in spite of the hardships and the prejudices that they encountered in the early part of the 1900s but because of it.

I found this interesting (page 231).  Gladwell writes that asians generally have a lower IQ than their western counterparts, which is surprising because Asians tend to dominate the world of mathematics.  What does this mean?  It means that Asians are dominant in mathematics, not because of their IQ (which is lower) but in spite of it.  He essentially says it's more about hard work than anything else.  The argument is pretty convincing.

If you are a teacher, I would highly recommend this book.  If Gladwell's conclusions are true, it could change your philosophy of education, such as the idea of summer break being a much need thing for students.  According to Gladwell, summer break is a terrible thing with respect to education.  Read it to find out why.

Overall, I thought the book was very well written and interesting.  I would highly recommend this book, especially to people in the education field.  Gladwell has an easy and clear way of communicating and it is fun to read.  At one point in my reading, I was reading by a street light as I was hanging out with friends because I didn't want to put it down.  Good times.

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