Aside from his epilogue about his mother and grandmother, Gladwell ends his book with the story of Marita and this statement: “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success… with a society that provides opportunities for all… The world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for. Marita doesn’t need a higher IQ or a mind as quick as [Bill Gates]. All those things would be nice of course. But they miss the point. Marita just needed a chance.”
I agree wholeheartedly that Marita just needed a chance. I’ve spent many years encouraging students to participate in Talent Search, whereby they take out-of-level tests as a means of showing their need for an accelerated curriculum. All of the Talent Search-based programs – nationwide – give children the kind of chance Marita received at her special high school. Just as Kipp promises it will give kids stuck in poverty a chance to get out, WCATY promises the same. We call it cumulative advantage. Going to one program is an advantage that opens doors to another and then another, and so on. And students who have attended WCATY programs on full scholarship have written the exact same message as Gladwell’s in their letters to their sponsors: “thank you for helping me to break the cycle of poverty that has imprisoned my family by giving me a chance.”
I also like Gladwell’s use of the term “academically minded” in his final chapter. I encourage our schools to say a resounding “yes, that’s cool,” to the academically minded, rather than causing children to hide their talents, dumb down, and lower their aspirations.