Sunday, July 18, 2010

Learning variations across class lines... rich vs. poor

Many of you may have heard of a fellow named Malcolm Gladwell. He has written a series of books that, while not directly business books, have many things to say about doing business. Each of his books is excellent and I would highly recommend them all. All of his books share in common that they discuss human nature. Last night I lay in bed thinking about some of the concepts he presented in Outliers. This book seems to me to be the one that skyrocketed him into national (and international) stardom, as it were. This book struck a chord. And, interestingly, different people respond to different things in the book.

One of the concepts I found most interesting was the difference between poor children and middle and upper class children. He noted in the book that all of them cover the same topics during the school year. Each of them learns the same things. However each year the poor children seem to fall further and further behind. Gladwell attributes this to the approach of each class to summer vacation. Poor children are typically left to play and entertain themselves. They are often from homes with a single working parent (or none I suppose) and have limited opportunity to maintain or expand upon the knowledge that they gained during the school year.

By contrast, middle and upper class children often experience learning opportunities during the summer. I'm particularly interested in this topic since the Beans and I are vacationing in America this summer. And while it is, in every sense, a typical American summer, it is rife with opportunities for learning. For instance, this last weekend our small-town summer home had its annual "Homecoming". In honor of the day, we were swimming in learning opportunities. The particular focus was life in the 1860s when the town experienced a number of situations. The Beans had the opportunity to go on a covered wagon ride, visit a Confederate solider tent, and see a native American dance and living quarters. In addition, we've been to 2 art museums. We've also learned how to bowl and how to swim this summer.

We've continued practicing our reading in English and in Arabic (yep we even took part in the local library's summer reading program), but the focus has been strongly on experiential learning. So, I find myself wondering, in Gladwell's research, did he find that this kind of learning is as valuable? Does it have to be practice on the topics they learned in school or are they gaining just as much by learning in more interactive ways? Don't get me wrong, once we get home I'm certain that El 3atal and TetaBean will begin some intensive prep for the coming school year. But for me, I think this learning they've been doing is perhaps more necessary as it expands their horizons and reminds them that there is a world outside of Amman and even Jordan. It reminds them that some societies count their history in thousands of years and some in hundreds. Bottom-line, it reminds them that they are of two cultures, each important, each valuable, each beautiful. So, here's to intercultural learning!

Happy Summers!


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