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01:12 pm: Gladwell on Parenting (my inference, not necessarily his intention)
I liked The Tipping Point a lot. Good book, good insights, well worth the time.

Outliers changed my whole way of thinking. I spent a few minutes (hours?) brooding about never having spent 10,000 hours doing anything (sleeping? going to school? reading? Sure, and I'm quite good at all those things... so what?). I already knew that I'm not Yo Yo Ma or Gordie Howe or Bill Gates. I re-adjusted to the fact fairly quickly (grumble, grumble).

I found a fair amount of comfort in learning how much of what seems like talent or genetics is luck (accompanied by talent and genetics, but the luck is absolutely necessary too). I'd known, in vague, self-indulgent ways, that I've had a few talents (math, piano, martial arts) that might have gone somewhere in different circumstances (tutoring, good teacher, kowtowing to an egomaniacal whack-job). Dunno if I would've put in the 10,000 hours, but the circumstances were largely out of my control (except the kowtowing, which I'm mighty grateful I got over as quickly as I did).

I'm happy where I am, which is pretty damned lucky in and of itself.

Just one chart in that book (Canadian hockey players' birthdays) instantly made a decision for me though: Teddy's not going to kindergarten next year.

Teddy's birthday is December 23. The cutoff for kindergarten is December 31 (i.e., kids have to turn 5 by 12/31 to be admitted to public kindergarten in Longmeadow*). So Teddy could go to kindergarten next fall, when he's still 4.

When I was growing up, there seemed to be some kind of prestige in having kids doing things young. Young in school? Must be super-smart. Young in sports? Must be super-good. From some of the older parenting books I've read, there was also a fair amount of pressure to hit developmental milestones early. There are references to parents' bragging about kids eating meat before they had teeth or being potty trained before they could walk or whatever. (There's still some of this around, but fortunately it doesn't seem to influence the parents I know -- or I'm being just as oblivious to peer pressure as I've been most of my life.)

My inclination, perhaps in part due to youth-fetishism, was to put Teddy in school next year. It's clear that he's very bright. He'll be ready, intellectually, to handle the work. I'd been worried that he wouldn't be ready socially, but he's made huge strides in pre-school. My primary remaining concern was that he's physically very small, which I think is particularly hard for boys.

And then I read Outliers. The chart that changed my mind showed that the vast majority of major league Canadian hockey players are born in the first quarter of the year. Gladwell explains that Canadian peewee leagues (or whatever they're called in Canada) cut off on the calendar year. So just-barely-5 and very-nearly-6 would be grouped together. At that age, when a year's development is a HUGE difference, the very-nearly-6-year-olds are considerably more physically adept. So the kids born early in the year are inevitably picked for the special teams. They get extra coaching, extra practice, and more opportunity to compete. So they get better and better and have more and more opportunities.

Voila! Hockey stars!

Of course the kids who end up in the NHL are also very talented. They put in their 10,000 hours. They work their bitty butts off.

...and they started with a huge advantage, just by being born in the beginning of the year.

If Teddy goes to kindergarten next year, he will (probably) still be very physically small and as much as 15 months younger than some kids in his class. Although he's very bright and would, I'm sure, do just fine, he would lose the advantages that an extra year of growth, development, and pre-school could give him. He is far less likely to be in the advanced groups for reading or math or whatever. And he will lose the compounded effect that the extra attention would give him.

So unless his pre-school teachers think he needs the challenge of being with older kids, he's going to stay in pre-school for another year.

Gladwell also got me thinking more about giving Teddy opportunities to learn what he's passionate about. What would he want to put 10,000 hours into? He doesn't need to be a Ma or a Howe or a Gates (though I'd worry less about my 401K if he were), but if there's something he loves, I want to give him the chance to pursue it as best he can. That's one reason I'm glad we moved: Longmeadow has terrific schools, with excellent academic opportunities. It also has great sports programs and music programs. There are lots of things to choose from (he would not have had that in Boston, even at one of the "good" schools).

I also wonder about what weird advantages Teddy might have, given when he was born and to whom. Will 2004 turn out to be a banner year, like 1890 (I think? for industrialists) or 1955 (for computer entrepreneurs)? Will it be the Age of Something Really Cool? Will the fact that he has a Czech father make any kind of weird difference in his life? Or parents with a significant age difference? Or a full-time Dad and a Mom who's the primary breadwinner? What perspectives might he have that we can help him appreciate?

My objective isn't to ensure his financial success. Like all (or most) parents, I want him to be happy and healthy. If he wants to put 10,000 hours into building elaborate Thomas sets or making cookies, that's totally cool with me (don't quote me when I'm tripping over Brio pieces or fed up with the smoke detector going off). If he, like most of us, doesn't want to put 10,000 hours into any one thing, that's totally cool too (worked for me, after all).

But what's going to shape him? What will he look back at, years from now, and think "AHA! That's where I got that!" or "WHY WHY WHY did they do/not do that to me?"

* Edited to change from "in Massachusetts," 'cause I learned (from a newsletter from Teddy's school) that Longmeadow is apparently the only town in Massachusetts where the cutoff is Dec 31, not Sept 1. Go figure.

Current Location: Longmeadow
Current Mood: curiouscurious


[User Picture]
Date:January 1st, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
i read that book and came away with some of the same thoughts. colin has some very impressive talents and i'd love to find a way to nurture them so that he has the best chance of success in life. but i will absolutely wait a year for school (he's born november 1st) after reading outliers.

i would also love to find a more year-round school. i like the idea of a couple weeks off here and there, which is partially selfish, because i realize that once colin and siena are in school, we will be much more constrained in our travel options. however, the studies looking at test scores at the beginning and end of the years were pretty compelling. some of those ideas would be excellent replacements for 'no child left behind" bullshit. copy some of the practices of that school in brooklyn, for example.

anyway, i liked your comments. good book, too. happy new year!
[User Picture]
Date:January 2nd, 2009 04:42 am (UTC)

thanks! HNY!

I'm still digesting the school stuff, though the material you cite was very compelling (otoh, we're both probably more like the "privileged" families, who will provide lots of summer-time enrichment to our kids). I was kinda freaked out by that teenager who was getting 6 hours of sleep a night. That's too extreme for me.

And of course I have many, many fond memories of summers. But Teddy's parents don't work in school systems, so we won't get summers off/long weekends every week either. But camp is still a strong possibility.
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