Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cultural Legacies and Outliers


In chapter 6 of Outliers Malcolm Gladwell provides an entry into a larger discussion about cultural legacies. He opens with disturbing descriptions of how longstanding cultural patterns and beliefs influenced violent conflicts among generations of families in Kentucky during the 19th century.

The compelling research findings concerning long-term and deeply held values led Gladwell to the conclusion that
Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.
He goes on to note the possibilities of “taking cultural legacies seriously” in order to learn “about why people succeed and how to make people better.”

It’s worth noting that highlighting cultural legacies can easily give way to problematic racial and gendered generalizations—generalizations we have necessarily been inclined to critique or avoid.

Having said that, how might taking cultural legacies seriously hurt or hinder our understanding of high academic achievement at SIUE? That is to say, how would a concentrated focus on cultural legacies enhance or limit our view of those who succeed at college?

21 comments:

Rese said...

This is a difficult topic. While cultural legacies are important in understanding someone's behavior in and out of class, they are not fool-proof indicators of how successful someone is in the classroom. However, when confronted with a difficult critical thinking problem or math exam, it would aid professors in being more vigilant and prepared to help students cope with frustration who may be accustomed to projecting their anger in violence towards others.

I'm sure Gladwell will go on to explain how someone's ancestry is related to his success, but for now, I would have to say that it would lead to professors labeling students and treating them according to what they know about their background rather than giving them opportunities to excel. In return, the students may have self-fulfiling prophecies and their behavior and success will be limited to the professors expectations.
T Grizzle

Shawn C. said...

By having a high concentrated focus on a cultural legacies here at SIUE, in my own opinion this would greatly hinder the the higher standard of education. If we put a generalization of those we think would succeed at the collegiate level we would more than likely all come up with around the same kind of response. Most think that to be able to make it at the university level you have to be near genius status. If we all were to truly believe this and apply it into our everyday lives the ones who know they are not at this level would suffer greatly just for the fact of no one would really give them a chance to do the things they know they can achieve. What would end up happening if we applied the thinking that a genius graduates, has children who are just the opposite of the said genius graduate, the children then apply to a place of higher learning. Just because they have the same last name as their genius parent the university takes them over a more qualified applicant. This is the long would most likely ruin the good name of the university. In conclusion, instead of finding the ones who truly can and want to be at a place of higher education, by putting a concentrated focus on cultural legacies it would not only hurt the ones who truly deserve to be accepted, but also the university itself.

Shanna Evans said...

Like Resse, this is a complicated subject. On one hand, looking into someone’s own or family’s past can offer great insight into their present and even future actions. We see this methodology used in the court system for example to determine whether or not someone is not guilty or if someone should have custody of a child.

People also act and make decisions based on their life experiences, environment, and upbringing. I think it is safe to assume that a wealthy business CEO will have differing thoughts and patterns of behavior compared to a homeless person living on the street. The experiment Gladwell provided in this chapter evidence of how people from different areas (and consequently different perspectives) react in certain situations.

However, this way of thinking can easily blind someone who was looking at those who succeed at college. Any person can look at the statistics and see for him or herself which groups historically do better in college, but what about the groups who do not do as well overall? Or they just doomed for failure? Of course not, there are many other factors that determine a student’s success in school. Looking solely at cultural legacies would limit our view of who does well in college.

Ashley Wilson said...

When reading the text and looking at the topic of discussion, I began to really think about legacies. It is important to understand that not all legacies are good or positive. But, if we only focus on the positive, there are both good and bad that result from living off another's name.
For example, if a child was to be accepted into a school or university based on what their parent had achieved, they would always be compared to that parent. It would be good for recognition, but it would not be good for self- concept. The child would never have his/her own identity. If the child succeeds,the success would be compared to the achievements of the parent. If the child doesn't succeed, the child would known as not being like that parent. Some would like to get a "free ride" off another's name, but will that really separate them from the other person?
I think by now we, as a society, have become aware that everyone is different. Even identical twins have different emotions and approaches do dealing with problems. So everyone ahould be given equal opportunity and seen as an individual, no matter of family or cultural legacies.

Charnelle M said...

I believe that focusing on people's background would lead to professors judging them based on their past. This would limit the number of people that succeed because the professors would already have preconceived notions about what to expect from the student. If we walk around judging people based on their past nobody would succeed because it would hold them back. In order to succeed you have to be allowed to move forward. The only good aspect of focusing on cultural backgrounds would be to use that information to encourage the student to strive and achieve their goals.

Christen Maul said...

Cultural backgrounds are helpful in understanding a person. We all come from different places and acknowledging that as well as investigating it will help us not to judge one another purely based on that. However, one;s background does not define what he/she is able to do. we have to look at some as an individual of their background and realize they have an equal chance of success.

Like others have said, generalizing a student based on their background is only holding them back. Each student deserves to been seen with a fresh eye and given the same chance to prove their abilities as anyone else.

I also agree with the self-fulfilling prophecy comment. If someone feels they are not given a chance, then they won't perform to the best of their ability thus proving what was already thought of them. Success comes from a good combination of cultural legacy and starting your own legacy with what sets you apart.

LaToya B. said...

taking cultural legacies seriously can cause some people to be stereotyped. If you know one of your friends come from a low income background or a background where their family has not been successful in school it could hinder that childs progress. They could sometimes feel that since their family members did not succeed in school they do not have to try to do well in school either and that could limit the success they have. Instead as using their families shortcomings as excuses of why they are not trying to succeed in school, students should be motivated to do better than their families so they can somehow change this cultural legacy.

R. Connor said...

Thinking about cultural legacies I see it as being a huge road block for some. It might lead some people to believe that this is how they are supposed to act, or this is how their life is supposed to play out. This issue would not be such a hard one to overturn if people did not play into their cultural legacies or stereotypes. If everything someone assumes about a race, gender, or whatever is true then it is what it is.

I feel it is our job to create our own cultural legacy. A legacy that is not defined as success, non success, but defined as independent. People outside of a culture should not feel like they know what to expect from another culture because a culture's past does not determine their future. I also believe it is important to know that just because we are a part of a certain legacy does not mean we have to continue in it. It is good to realize that some legacies need to be changed for the better.

Olufunmilola Ajala said...

I agree with R Connor. I believe that cultural legacies can influence a person to act a certain way. If the cultural legacy is positive (ie.getting a good education), the cultural legacy can be beneficial to the person. However, if it is a negative cultural legacy (ie.dropping out of school), the person may suffer. I believe that the faculty and students of SIUE should understand different cultural legacies because this will help faculty and students be aware and try to stop themselves from using a stereotype or generalization about the learning ability of a person based on his or her ethnicity.
However, people should not use their cultural legacy to define who they are. They should not use stereotypes of their culture as a foundation to how they will act in school.

Katie D. said...

I don't think a concentrated focus on cultural legacies would limit our view of those who suceed at college at all. I believe that understanding an individual's cultural legacies could help others help the individual succeed.

Stevie B. said...

Considering cultural legacies can even go outside of the academic spectrum. Finally, in the 21st century, corporations and organizations are taking an active roll in increasing their diversity within their company. And therefore, considering cultural legacies within every prospective employee they consider. Increasing diversity allows team members to express their individuality and different life experiences in order to provide a different perspective.

However, many people believe that trying to increase diversity within these companies only develops a greater difference between the people.

Ian Caveny said...

A look into cultural legacies would be interesting, though not necessarily positive or negative. This truly depends on what cultural legacies we look into. If we observe a student who's cultural legacy is positive (for example, a music student from a long line of musicians), we might discover that they embrace or shun their legacy. It truly depends on the individual. A musician from a family of musicians would have added pressure and stress to succeed. A musician from a family who can't tell the key of G Major from the key of e minor would not put nearly as much pressure (but then would that student be as immersed in music knowledge?).

There are many factors to consider here, and one cannot have a straight answer due to the very individual nature of the issue.

Denita Campbell said...

Cultural legacies can leave a positive or a negative impact on the SIUE population. If a culture has a particular stereotype on another culture it can either enhance or hinder that cultures growth. It can help in the aspect that it gives one culture something to exceed towards which can be positive, but it can negatively affect a culture if the stereotype is negative and that's how they could be viewed on campus. Also if the expectations are too much too handle is can cause great chaos. I feel a great way to measure someones legacy should be on an individual basis instead of cultural.

Aurelia Daniels said...

I think that cultural legacies could help us in our college education I also know that it can hunder it as well. I think that this can happen when students decided that they are owed something because of the things that their race has endured in the past. For example, I am African American, and I can take the things that happened to my races as something that makes me stonger or I can use that as an excuse in why I can't succeed in the world.

I think that cultural leagacies will be used in different way by different people. I think that if you are a person with a winning attitude then you would be able to say that those things that happened in the past let me know that if my ancestors could go through the things that they did and over come them all, then I definately can do great things given the opportunties that I have today. However, if you are a negative person then you will take the past and turn it into all the reasons why you are unable to succeed. I think that it all depends on your outlook.

Anonymous said...

Cultural legacies can be helpful in certain situations. For example in my language appreciation class, we are discussing how people can be discriminated against because of how they talk and if they sound foreign. This caught my attention because it has happened to my parents before and it still happens to this day. Your cultural ancestry can have a lot to do with your success, mostly with how people perceive you and how you learn to deal with it

raquel davis said...

I find it very interesting that traditions and attitudes from our cultural background can influence the attitudes that we display today. The Appalachian “culture of honor” is still exemplified today, as was determined by the studies conducted at the University of Michigan. This traditional southern culture, in which men fought to establish and maintain their reputations, indirectly determined the behaviors of current southerners, as was found in the study. I believe that learning about and understanding our cultural backgrounds can significantly alter how we perceive our current surroundings and how we choose to behave. In effect, we can adapt our attitudes towards a more positive outcome. Today, many studies have been conducted to try to understand everything that influences a person’s thought processes and behaviors by learning about their cultural background. In fact, most consumer interest groups and marketing projects are based off of predicting an individual consumer’s behavior by understanding the culture.
By taking cultural legacies seriously at SIUE, our view of those who succeed at college may be altered by what cultures we perceive to have high academic success and those who we perceive to be academic failures. If one belongs to a culture that is categorized with having high academic standards, then they may be more inclined to do better by working harder to uphold that reputation. However, if one belongs to a culture in which academic success is generalized as being substandard, then that person may not achieve to their highest potential because they have limited themselves to that negative reputation.

Katherine Clayborne said...

When dealing with social backgrounds I feel there's a lot of different opinions. It's also quite difficult when you begin to take a person's past into consideration. I feel as though this has its positives as well as its negatives.

I feel a person's cultural past can take them one way or the other. You can either use your past to hold you back or you can learn from your past to motivate you in the future.

I agree that cultural legacies are important in understanding a person's behavior, but i also feel sometimes the past should remain the past and that the main focus should be the future. I understand that without a past you have no future but focusing too much on the past can hold you back.

Josh Jefferson said...

Josh Jefferson

Cultural legacy and education shouldn't really be in the same sentence. Sure there may be some mass generalization that some cultures exceed in college environments more than others, But taking those statistics and focusing on only those students would be unethical and unfair.
If we let a cultural legacy define someone and their ability to succeed then we are doing the same thing the south did to slaves. We can't just assume that they are incapable of learning and turn them away from education. A lot of times the chained slave could've been smarter than the person cracking the whip, or at least more creative. Closing the door of education to people "belonging" to certain cultural legacies should be avoided simply becuase everyone should be given the same opportunity.

Kacee Aldridge said...

I think it is important to acknowlege a persons past in order to better understand their present and just to know general information about a person because we humans are naturally curious. If we look at cultual legacy as defined by Gladwell and take note that "...they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them" one would be inclinded to think that cultural legacy is a good thing. However, I believe that cultural legacies hinders the way we perceive people and could stop them from reaching full potential if they are confined to the limits set by those before them. At SIUe we should adhere to cultural legacies instead we should focus more on our personal definition of ourselves.        

sent via iPhone 3gs

SierraCarmichael said...

Culture Legacies is something everyone needs to learn about so that it may help reduce the prejudices that exist. I use to live in Louisiana, Tennessee, and texas so I somewhat understood what they were going through. In addition, when you come from a family that has reputation of dropping out of school, you tend to follow suite because it's what's "expected of you." Lastly in the south high school sports are a priority in school. I can remember many times athletes have gotted "extra credit" in class to bring their grade up so that they could play in the game. I thought they were being being set up to fail, in real life nobody's gonna give you any hand outs.

Rohan Genge said...

I think using cultural legacies to determine whether or not a student is capable of succeeding at a university would have a negative impact on post secondary education. A students potential for success should be determined by that students work ethic and accomplishments only.

Having successful relatives would certainly increase your potential for success because you will be given more opportunities than someone who does not. On the other hand, having unsuccessful parents or ancestors does not necessarily mean you will be a failure as well. It only means your path to success will be much more difficult, because of the limited number of opportunities you have been given in life.

If anything, universities could help even the playing field for students who come from unsuccessful cultural legacies by giving them scholarships or involving them in activities such as this outliers project. Other than that considering cultural legacies in a collegiate atmosphere only puts limits on the amount students can achieve.