Is Your Student an “Outlier”?

Is Your Student an "Outlier"?

By Danielle Smith, Off-Campus Program Advisor

“The tallest tree in the forest came from a good seed—that is not in question. But it did not become the tallest tree in the forest simply because it grew from a good seed; it became the tallest tree because it was planted in good soil and because no other trees blocked its sunlight.” —Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers proposes that we not look solely at successful individuals’ intelligence or natural abilities, but rather, at the world that surrounds them: their family, their generation, and the distinctive experience of their upbringing.

Outliers is probably best known for its introduction of the “10,000-hour rule,” based on a study by Anders Ericsson (PDF), which claims that the key to achieving success in any skill is to practice it correctly for that length of time. But the book also offers several important takeaways for families of students who want to pursue their passions and interests in depth:

  • Success demands patience and the willingness to work for that which one desires to master.
  • A great deal of time and effort must go into acquiring skill; it is not reasonable to expect instant eminence.
  • People are more likely to put in the hard work necessary when they feel there is real purpose to their work.
  • Inspiring young people to feel connected to a vision of their future and set attainable goals is paramount to success.

Gladwell refutes the idea that some people are simply born with innate talent and argues that success is instead determined by opportunities that may present themselves based on a person’s upbringing, culture, and other resources. Sometimes, where and when one is born is vitally important, and accomplishment is simply magnified by the world’s needs at the time. In addition, intelligence is not indicative of the potential a person possesses, as the social skills individuals employ and the decisions they make unquestionably impact the promise of their future. If the same opportunities could be available to all children, Gladwell argues, many more success stories would be possible. His book encourages educators, advisors, and parents alike to provide the foundation to help children achieve the kind of success usually associated with the definition of outliers.

At Clonlara School, our approach helps guide students in exploring the world around them and gives them the opportunity to dive deep into their individual interests, talents, and goals. As many of our graduates attest, having the space and time to learn in this way imparts a determined work ethic and desire to achieve in school, work, and life. Or, to use Gladwell’s analogy, provides the good soil and sunlight needed to grow and become successful.

Does your student have a passion or interest that they are determined to develop? Please share whether Gladwell’s take on success reflects their learning experience.

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