Saturday, February 14, 2009


While link-surfing tonight and educating myself on the psychological signs and effects of panic, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of interesting stuff; if I wanted to I could be up all night reading, and pondering, and researching just for kicks.

Three articles on (by Malcom Gladwell, journalist and author of "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - a 2005 NYT Bestseller which I sadly haven't read) caught my eye tonight, all along the same lines - success; notably, how to predict it. Most Likely to Succeed, Late Bloomers, and The Uses of Adversity are all fascinating looks into what makes success, and why our methods for picking out potentially successful people may not always work - especially in certain fields. Teaching is apparently one of those (who'd have guessed? *cough*).

Late Bloomers thoroughly explores the stereotype that genius is destined to be recognized in youth, with examples like Robert Frost, who published nearly half his great works after the age of 40... and compares the kind of slow, perfectionist, directionless learning practiced by older "masters" of an art with the fast-paced, goal-oriented, immediate results of young genius. I place myself firmly in the former category both with relief and regret - I have always felt like I wasn't living up to my potential and wondered if I could have been a smashing success by now, but it feels good to know that I might still have time to work out the kinks in my presentation.

Adversity ties nicely in with that theory of late blooming, telling us that sometimes, it takes an outsider to scramble one's way up to the top and stay there, as opposed to the well-cushioned, well-bred and well-intentioned Yale grads who make it there and then fall off the pinnacle, much to the surprise of those around them.

And I'll leave you with a few quotes from Most Likely to Succeed, because Mr. Gladwell sums it up in a better manner than I can, even if he is verbose about it:

"Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year's worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half's worth of material. That difference amounts to a year's worth of learning in a single year.

...many reformers have come to the conclusion that nothing matters more than finding people with the potential to be great teachers. But there's a hitch: no one knows what a person with the potential to be a great teacher looks like.

...Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers—that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible.

... A group of researchers—Thomas J. Kane, an economist at Harvard's school of education; Douglas Staiger, an economist at Dartmouth; and Robert Gordon, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress—have investigated whether it helps to have a teacher who has earned a teaching certification or a master's degree. Both are expensive, time-consuming credentials that almost every district expects teachers to acquire; neither makes a difference in the classroom."

...Perhaps no profession has taken the implications of the quarterback problem more seriously than the financial-advice field, and the experience of financial advisers is a useful guide to what could happen in teaching as well. There are no formal qualifications for entering the field except a college degree. Financial-services firms don't look for only the best students, or require graduate degrees or specify a list of prerequisites. No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one...

...Ed Deutschlander, the co-president of North Star Resource Group, in Minneapolis, says that last year his firm interviewed about a thousand people, and found forty-nine it liked, a ratio of twenty interviewees to one candidate.

...Deutschlander interviews a thousand people to find ten advisers. He spends large amounts of money to figure out who has the particular mixture of abilities to do the job. "Between hard and soft costs," he says, "most firms sink between a hundred thousand dollars and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars on someone in their first three or four years," and in most cases, of course, that investment comes to naught. But, if you were willing to make that kind of investment and show that kind of patience, you wound up with a truly high-performing financial adviser.

...What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?"

If you have the time, I suggest reading all 3 articles in their entirety - I'm going back for more.

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