Posted by: Daisy | April 6, 2009

Success spelled out

Anyone who’s known me personally for a while knows that I love to read.  They’ll also know that I have not actually read many books in years.  It’s sad but true.  I am also very aware that this is my own doing and I can only blame myself.  You see, I chose things other than reading because they are more important, more critical, more fill-in-the-blank.  So, it was a real surprise when I started and finished a book this past weekend.

My father-in-law has been telling me about this book called “Outliers – the Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell for months now.  He has told me it’s ‘my kind of book’ and have tried to give me snippets of it.  He’s been telling me that he’ll lend it to me as soon as he gets it back from someone else he lent it to.  The other day, he mentioned the book again, and this time, I happened to be in the store with a little time to kill.  So, I picked up the book at the store and started reading.  I stood there reading for 30 minutes before I finally realized my time to kill was now officially dead and I had to get going.

Within 2 days, the book magically appeared at my home when my father-in-law visited.  That was Saturday.

I actually have Malcom Gladwell’s other books including “The Tipping Point” and “Blink” and I thoroughly enjoyed them too.  I remember fondly reading them in the airport and on the airplane and thinking ‘wow’ the entire time.  This go-around, I gobbled it up cover-to-cover.  How can I describe it except for incredible.  A powerful non-fiction read that makes me nod my head and realize, yes, I understand more about me.  Because, there’s nothing quite as fascinating to me, than understanding people, and why they become who they become.

I can not begin to do the book any justice whatsoever and any attempts to explain what he explains so well, would be.. well, less.  However, let me try just a little bit.  As my son told me today, “Try your best, mommy”.

He gives examples of real people and tells the story of their rise.  He explains that we all love the rags to riches story where someone living in the poorest of conditions, but with great intelligence, rises above and becomes extremely successful.  Yet, he claims that these stories are far from the whole story.  Instead, he offers additional examples of people who seem to have all the right ingredients, but never quite make it to success.  He offers up insights including specific details on things like cultural background, date of birth, and class which influence and when added up, can become huge advantages.  Some people with seemingly the right talents, but the wrong cultural background, can end up in a situation where it suddenly becomes a huge advantage.  The door opens and is available to them as he outlined in the chapter about lawyers.

Like I wrote, I can not do it justice.

On a more personal level, it reminded me of my ongoing debate about public schools vs private schools which only became more real to me when I look at my son and wonder if I’m doing the right thing.  My son goes to public school.  It is my belief there is a wide and diverse group of children going through the public school system, and there is far less of the feeling of entitlement by the kids.  On the other hand, going to a private school allows kids to build up an incredible network of friends who are far more likely to be either directly or indirectly involved with successful businesses.  For those looking for the best opportunities, it is nearly impossible to put a price tag on a great network.  I am learning that as I slowly build up my network much later in life.

I know they both have their advantages and disadvantages (which is why the debate goes on), however, I still have trouble with the the hoity-toity feel of private school and perhaps it makes me uncomfortable because it’s not who I am?  Perhaps because I think of myself as clearly the poor folk with some intelligence hoping for a rags to riches story?

The debate goes on.  He’ll continue in the public school system for now.  And I’ll remember his advice to me, which was to simply try my best, to do the right thing.

– Daisy



  1. Daisy

    I will preface the following by saying that what I am about to say is what we have found and I make no judgement on other people’s actions, motivations or moral positions. I would not appreciate people telling me how to bring up my child so I hope not to inflict my opinions on others.
    In late 2007 we decided to move Bart from his old public school to a private school (and therefore Lisa would start there Sep 08). He was in a public school with a very good rating, but we found that he was not progressing as we had hopped and that he was progressively getting into more trouble. I will swallow my humility and say that he is a very bright lad, and I know it is the common middle-class excuse to say “he is not naughty … he is bored” but we decided that we needed to take him out of that school and find somewhere else.

    We are by no means rich so it was not an easy decision to spend that much money on something that I could get for free (especially as we decided that if we were going to do it for Bart we should do the same for Lisa and later Maggie), but we decided that any hardship that it would cause would be worth it in the long run.

    Without wanting to be overly melodramatic, since moving schools I feel like I have my son back. He is enjoying school again. After 9 months he was top of his new year group in the SATs. He was counting down the days of the Holiday.

    As for the diversity of children, there are still children from both ends of the ability spectrum, but there are far fewer behavioural issues. It is a Catholic school, but they are inclusive and due to the fairly high proportion of Asian doctors in our town, there are many children from other faiths and with other cultures. Many of the parents are in a similar position to us in that they are not Rich they just think that this is the best for their children. I also think it is less of a sense of entitlement that I notice in these children than a sense of expectation. They seem to know that the world is at their feet if they choose to reach out and grab it.

    Anyway that is my 2¢ … sorry for going on for so long 🙂

    Mr Geek

    Thank you Mr. Geek for sharing.

    First, it finally occurred to me.. Bart, Lisa, and Maggie.. DOH!
    Second, and onto the public vs private – I too am far from rich and that certainly plays a role as well. I have heard of other stories where parents have said there are more behavioural problems in one vs the other with seemingly valid reasons for both. I’ve spoken to many friends who are teachers as they tell me their viewpoint. I’ve heard a number of parents make the suggestion for french immersion (French immersion is in a public school, however, the kids going to french immersion tend to have parents/families that are much more involved in their kids’ education).

    At the end of the day, I think it boils down to the effectiveness of the teacher, and supporting team for your child. I love my son’s teacher – I mean LOVE. I could not have asked for a better teacher for him. He is absolutely thriving in school, because his teacher has set up an environment which allows him and the others to flourish. Now are his connections and friends going to become a fabulous network? Who knows. I suppose it depends on what he wants in life and no one knows that just yet.

    Thanks for the comment and I appreciate the thought/time you put into it.

    – Daisy

  2. If I were to over simplify things I would say that the biggest difference is the class sizes. Here in UK public schools average the class size now is ~ 30 where as at my kids school it is ~15 (9 in Lisa’s class), and there is usually a teaching assistant too. I don’t blame the teachers in state schools for a lack of individual attention (after all Mrs Geek is one) but it is unsurprising that in a class of 30 it is the squeaky wheels that get looked at.

    I think it is true in all cases that the squeaky wheels get the attention. I was never a squeaky wheel, and although I did not struggle, I certainly did not do as well as I could have. I only learned in my mid 20’s that I had a very different learning style. Knowing that and if I had gone a private school route (which never would have happened since we were very poor) just makes me wonder what difference it would have made). I think this is one reason why I love my son’s teacher. He finds a way to give all the kids individual attention (class of about 20 kindergarten kids) – Daisy

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