Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Found: Library List

Sometimes I find really interesting things in library books, little forgotten moments from someone else's life. So, as I find these interesting little tidbits, I'll share them on here.

I've just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers: The Story of Success, which I borrowed from my local library, of course.

I found someone else's list of checked out books and thought it was interesting to see what else they were reading.

They checked out:

Interesting list. Sounds like this person was interested in helping their child make it. I'm wondering if, perhaps, just a wee bit, I too am worried about my daughter being successful. It's a common obsession we Americans tend to have. But, should we instead be concerned with giving more children the chance to succeed (including my own) instead of figuring out how best she can edge out her peers? I'd like to think that I'm in the charitable, egalitarian first group. But as my Little Bit gets older, I find myself falling back into the "let's beat them all" category. And I'm not ok with that.

This book wasn't quite what I expected. Mostly, he completely debunked the fairy tales we tell ourselves about successful people. Outliers, when we take a close look, end up being that way because they were fortunate to be born in the right time (month and year in some cases), to the right kind of parents, and are given the right kind of opportunities. Which all adds up to the conclusion that success in our society really isn't something you have much control over. Kind of depressing. But something I've felt/believed for quite some time.

Lest you think this book is a complete downer, Gladwell actually has several great ideas for ways we can improve our education system to remove inherent biasing as well as overcome the growing distance between american students and their international peers.

His first contention is that birth month does matter. Since we separate out the "gifted" students so early (kindergarten/first grade), the students who are on the older spectrum have quite an advantage over their younger peers as they are more mature (both emotionally and physically) and appear more "gifted" than younger children. He goes through and shows how this is true with pro hockey players in Canada.

We could compensate for this bias by either waiting to separate out gifted track children until there isn't as much developmental difference between a child born in January and a child born in September, which ends up being about 4th or 5th grade (9 - 10 years old). Or, even more intriguing, we could divide up the classes (and gifted testing) into thirds - so all students born between Jan and April in one cohort, May - August in another, and Sept - Dec in a third. That way students are only competing with others who are within 3 months of their own development.

This is quite intriguing to me because my daughter's birthday is on 12/26. The cutoff date for entering kindergarten is 9/1, so she'll be on the older side of her class. I've been talking to various parents to see what they thought as far as trying to get her into school earlier. The advice has been quite unanimous. Don't force it. Wait a year. The overwhelming reason is that this gives her more time to develop intellectually before she has to perform on the required tests. Even though she is curious and delights in learning - the longer we can keep her out of the formal school system the better chance she has of being successful in it. And Gladwell confirmed the anecdotal evidence I'd collected. It's better for your children to be the older ones in their class.

The other suggestion he had that I'd like to see get more attention is to drop the whole notion of summer vacation. It is summer vacation where we see the learning gaps between rich and poor get way out of proportion, mostly because poor children are not given the same opportunities to improve their skills during their time off. I vote to get rid of it. Not just for the learning part. But also because working parents now have to figure out child care (since most of us don't get a nice long 3 month break) which puts unnecessary stress on everyone.

Anyway - I enjoyed Outliers. And when I take it in context with some of the other great books I've been reading lately, has a lot of big ideas on how to change our children's future. And not just my child. Everyone's child.

This feels like this is going to be a theme for me for a bit. Stay tuned for more rambles on this topic.

PS. In other news, the camera repair geniuses have said they can have my camera back to my desperate hands in about 2-3 weeks. I cannot believe how very much I miss my camera. Here's hoping I never have to send my baby off like this again!

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