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13 April 2009 @ 02:21 pm
Outliers  
I read this book last week and was fascinated by it. I wasn't sure I believed everything in it, and I think there are some summaries about the book going around that aren't exactly accurate. I thought I'd put in my idea of what the book had to say (author Malcolm Gladwell).

#1 People are a product of their communities.

Not so sure how much I believe this one. Of course, we are influenced by our communities. How much? I don't know. I suppose I am too much of an individualist to believe some of the claims in the book, such as visiting with neighbors alone does more to cure heart disease that exercise or diet changes. And while geniuses make use of the opportunities offered to them, I think that they would also make use of other opportunities. The kind of genius I find useful is the kind that persists until it is successful.

#2 There is no such thing as a genius without hard work.

Gladwell says 10,000 hours is the magic number to make someone an expert. He uses Bill Gates, Mozart, and Bill Joy as examples, among others. He argues that Mozart didn't really write any good music until he was 21 and past his 10,000 hours. I do not know enough about music to be sure this is true, but I suspect that it is at least in part. The part people are misunderstanding is Gladwell's insistence that there must still be inborn talent for the 10,000 hours to make any difference. He's trying to counteract the idea that if you're not a genius at first, then you'll never be one. And also the excuse that people give to themselves when they say they just didn't have the genius to begin with.

#3 Our current public school system is particularly disadvantageous to poor kids.

This is a minor point, but one that struck me particularly. I love summer vacation and I always have a special project planned for my kids. Sometimes they groan over my plan to teach them all about interval training and long runs and heart rate. Other times we do things like offer them a chance to buy the family's food for a whole week, or to learn all the Starcraft missions. We offer an end of the summer reward, and they are also expected to do reading every day and to help one of the other children in the family or do some kind of service daily. So my children rarely show any post summer learning deficits. In fact, they always go back to school with more knowledge and skills than before. But that's because they're privileged. Not that we're so very wealthy, but at least I am home with them and have the skills to occupy their minds and I put a priority on this. Many poor kids--not so much. School should be rear young and it should be done in groups based on ability (possibly related to close age grouping) and not based on what the school thinks will make a "balanced" classroom for the teacher.
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(Anonymous) on April 14th, 2009 11:17 am (UTC)
10,000 times
Shinichi Suzuki also talked about the number 10,000 as a threshold for ability. In the 1970s Americans thought it was hyperbole simply making the point that people have to practice. Then someone--it might have been John Kendall--went to Japan and watched a young girl do bow circles in front of the mirror for hours. He watched for awhile and then asked her about what she was doing. She told him that she had been assigned to do 10,000 of them at her last lesson with Dr. Suzuki and was working away at her literal assignment. I'm sure by the time a person performed each violin technique 10,000 times, she would have spent well over 10,000 hours at learning the violin. That's roughly 30 years at an hour each day. I guess it takes more than an hour each day.
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