Tipping Point, Outliers author and New Yorker writer, Malcolm Gladwell, is interviewed by Robert Krulwich, NPR science correspondent and co-host of Radiolab. Much of the talk centers around the definition of “genius” and Gladwell’s article on the Race-IQ debate during the time of the interview (2007). In this video clip, Gladwell compares the American education system to a modeling agency and contrasts it with the Marines.
Krulwich: Is it a good idea to pluck, to segregate, the stars?
“No. I think it’s bad. I have become a foe, an implacable foe, of any kind of streaming in any form. It is wrong to segregate out the best at an early age because you don’t know who the best is. You think you do, but you don’t. All you’ve done is create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is the kind of things that makes me and others beat our heads against a wall.”
If special programs of the best teachers with the best resources are given to a special set of students of course they’re going to succeed. Gladwell points out that in Rochester there was an accidental study. There were underperforming students who were accidentally put into an advanced math course, and “as this was in Rochester the mistake wasn’t recognized for years.” When they finally did realize the mistake, they realized that all the students were doing great and loved math.
“They were told every day how great you were at math. It does something to you. You could imagine the surprise on the parents faces when little Bobby was coming home and saying how much he loves math and how great he was at it.”
Inclusivity is one of the main ideas Gladwell advocates throughout his work. In recent years he has come under great scrutiny as not necessarily being the brilliant sociologist that one might think. But it’s not like he’s Oz. Gladwell has never asserted that he is a genius. He has, in fact, frequently downplayed his own role. He is a part of what many other great people and thinkers are doing. One may disagree with some of his findings, or his emphasis on the collective over the individual, such as David Brooks does in The Social Animal, but if his overall goal is to turn the tide in our exhausted and antiquated education system, then one should give him big props.
I might also point out that his work frequently connects the dots with other outstanding contributions to the field of brain science and generational shifts in the ways we learn. For instance, the above mentioned article on the Race-IQ debate leads to an astounding book by James R. Flynn, What is Intelligence: Beyond the Flynn Effect.