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Outliers: Reflection on chapters 6-8
I did want to write an essay. However, I am away, on a mini-holiday so I have only managed to read these three chapters and write some reflections.
*As much as I didn't like the beginning of the book, as the story unfolds I find so much truth in it.
*You can be a stickler and perfectionist, and find many a hole in Gladwell's stories, but the stories along the way are really interesting.
*Never have I ever thought that cultural legacies can be such powerful forces, which can affect a person or society both positively and negatively.
*One thing that came to mind: this book is a double-edged sword. I won't elaborate on positive things but the negative consequence of Outliers is that it can likely convince some people that, since individual effort alone is not what makes someone successful, it's not worth trying. We all know that life is unfair, but just because we cannot control all of circumstances, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do everything in our power to try to shape our life as we desire it to be.
*Lastly, there is so much truth in Chapter 6 where Malcom talks about 'culture of honour'. The case in point is Montenegro, one of six republics of former Yugoslavia and the neighbouring country of Serbia. Montenegro is a mountainous country with lots of barren land and herding culture as the main means of sustenance; it's a patriarchal society, with prevalent male figure and tight family bonds, which place loyalty to blood above all else. Very similar to Harlan. An ideal place for blood feud that luckily was eradicated here many years ago.
In chapter 6 Gladwell states how cultural heritage and legacy shapes the background and current actions of a society. In order to explain the social impact of these powerful but invisible forces, he describes the 50 year feud among the 19th century European settlers that populated the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. These immigrants were mostly herdsmen and their towns experienced a series of murders and clashes for decades. The reason behind this perpetration of violence was what some authors coined as the “culture of honor”. According to Gladwell, the dwellers of these mountainous regions had to make a living in infertile lands and their lives only revolved around rearing livestock. The constant harness and turmoil of the environment prompted its inhabitants to be aggressive, clannish and to reproduce the culture they had created in the Old World. In the 1990's, a group of psychologists from the University of Michigan conducted an experiment to see if these cultural bonds were still present among students. To their surprise, after carrying out a series of tests, those who experienced the strongest and most violent reactions came from the southern part of the States. He concluded the chapter by challenging us to think about the way we navigate through this world and how our forebears can somehow play a significant role in our decisions.
Chapter 7 analyses how cultural legacy is linked to the vision we have about authority and how this can result in disastrous consequences for human lives. After carefully analyzing the reasons behind several plane crashes, he concludes that the reasons behind these catastrophes were poor weather conditions, minor technical malfunctions, but most importantly lack of communication and mitigated speech. After listening to the cockpit transcript, the experts concluded that the constant polite differential way the crew addressed the pilots could have contributed to the fatal crashes. Gladwell states that different cultural history, and different ways of understanding the idea of authority and individualism can affect the idea of success. He concludes the chapter by reflecting on how we should address the previous issues if we want to foster more successful outcomes.
Finally, Chapter 8 discusses how cultural heritage can even shape the way we learn and how the success some countries experience in algebra is deeply tied to culture and language. A case in point is the Chinese naming conventions for numbers which are easier to remember than the ones used in Western countries. Consequently, Asian students outperform their American and European counterparts. Once again, the author challenges some preconceived notions of math skills as something that is innate or comes by chance.
I was personally challenged by these chapters as they led me to think that educators sometimes take for granted the inherited values our students possess and how these can shape their self-perception and performance. While for some students persistence is a cultural trait, for others honor is deemed as highly valuable. As we witness how our classrooms are becoming more culturally diverse, we as practitioners need to understand their background in order to support their learning experience.