Friday, January 24, 2014

Outliers: A Must-Read for Parents

Okay so, if you know me at all, you know I love a good read.

AND I love to tell other people about that good read.

So today I'm passing on a book maybe some of you have heard about, some of you not.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell is a great read. As a matter of fact, I think it should be required reading for parents of children under age 21.

Outliers details the fastest route to personal success. And by personal success, I don't mean becoming insanely rich and famous. As a matter of fact, Gladwell himself states, "It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us."

Instead, Outliers chronicles those who have found fulfillment and efficacy in life and shows the rest of us how to achieve the same in our own sphere of life.

He also shatters the myth of the "self-made man" or the "overnight success." His theory: our background, culture, family of origin and personal work ethic provide the roadmap to our success... or the lack thereof.

But I'll stop boring your with my own words, and share a few directly from Outliers...

"We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down the roots, and the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid? This is not a book about tall trees. It's a book about forests..." 

How often do we admire the tall, sturdy oak trees in our lives? We admire those around us with fortitude and purpose. We assume that this man or woman rose to the tallest heights of the forest by passion and drive and intelligence. We seldom think about the family members, friends, teachers, college professors, Sunday school teachers -- and I'll add the Lord -- who water those seeds, add fertilizer, place those small plants in the rays of the sun.

It really does take a village to raise a child.

The next quote needs a little backstory. Gladwell explains two kinds of intelligence: cognitive intelligence and practical intelligence. Cognitive intelligence is the kind that a child is mostly born with, and can be measured using an IQ exam. Practical intelligence is social savvy - it's an intuitive knowledge about the world around us and it is invaluable.

Where do people grow in this area of practical intelligence? In our families.

Sociologist Annette Lareau spent a few years observing a group of third graders that came from different races and socio-economic groups. She and her associates followed these families almost everywhere.

And look at what she found:

"You might expect that if you spend such an extended period in twelve different households, what you would gather is twelve different ideas about how to raise children... What Lareau found, however, is something much different. There were only two parenting "philosophies," and they divided almost perfectly along class lines. The wealthier parents raised their kids one way, and the poorer parents raised their kids another way... The middle class parents talked things through with their children, reasoning with them. They didn't just issue commands... If their children were doing poorly at school, the wealthier parents challenged their teachers. They intervened on behalf of their kids."

When I read this, my heart sank. I thought of the precious lower income students in my community. 

And I wondered... Who would intervene for them? Who would teach them to speak up for themselves and how to reason with others? Even if these children have the IQ for Harvard or Yale, who would prepare them for the social rigor of this kind of institution?

In our communities, in our schools and in our churches, we have got to stand with our children. We must pour into them, while we pour into our own. We must prepare them for whatever God has for them. We cannot sit idly by.

Okay, I'll stop preaching for another quote. This one smashes the myth that children from certain ethnic backgrounds are naturally smarter in math - or any other subject for that matter.

"We sometimes think of being good at mathematics as an innate ability. You either have "it" or you don't. But... it's not so much ability as attitude. You master mathematics if you are willing to try... Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds."

In case you haven't gotten the point yet - that success isn't only for the strong or the brilliant - I'll end with two quotes from the conclusion of Outliers.

"Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed... Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities -- and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them."

"Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky -- but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all."

Well said, Malcolm. Well said.

My conclusion after reading Outliers? We must advocate for our children and create opportunities within our own spheres of influence. We also must advocate for the children around us -- the ones we babysit, the ones who hang out with our children on the weekends, the ones that we teach in Children's Church. 

The future of our nation -- and even the world -- depends on the future of our children. We can help shape that future. 

Because it really does take a village.


  1. Carla I love this book! The message that stuck with me is the chapter on 10,000 hours!
    The birthdays were fascinating as we'll. this book motivates me when I am working toward a goal.

    1. Hey Venus!!! I love that too. I have always talked of people being gifted and talented, and I'd never considered the dedication and time (10,000 hours) they commit to their craft. I thought every part of this book was fascinating and motivating. Take care, Friend. And keep pressing towards your goals and dreams!