Tag Archives: Matthew effect

Making Winners

The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate “apparently ordinary” people to unusual effort.  The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people. – K. Patricia Cross

One of the things Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers confirmed to me is the make-or-break power a teacher wields over his/her students.  It is awesome, if not frightening to think, how teachers’ selections can determine who gets more attention (and hence more chances of improving or honing his talent/skills) or who gets virtually ignored.

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Notes from Outliers, Part II – The Best and The Brightest

Gladwell says that “our notion that it is the best and the brightest who effortlessly rise to the top is much too simplistic.”  He insists it is the “big head start, an opportunity that they neither deserved nor earned” that played a critical role in these people’s success.

I couldn’t help but think about how this happens in schools where, year after year, the same people gets “annointed” to run for positions in the student government, who gets chosen to dance and/or sing in school activities, who gets selected by the teachers or department heads or deans to represent the school in interschool, regional or national contests.  The more times you are chosen, the more you are able to hone your skills and talents, the more you improve, the more successful you become.

As Gladwell pointed out, success is the result of what sociologists call “accumulative advantage” or what sociologist Robert Merton called the “Matthew Effect” (because of the part of the Gospel of Matthew that says “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abudance. …”).