Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Accumulative Advantages & Outliers

Haley Scholars Fall 2013 Reading Groups 

Gladwell’s chapter “The Matthew Effect,” a title which refers to the biblical Scripture the Parable of Talents, illuminates how the talented greatly increase their talents. Biblical and popular retellings of the parable of talents often concentrate on the lesson that if talented people do not use or maximize their gifts, those gifts could be relinquished. But Gladwell, a writer always interested in providing an alternative take on familiar ideas, concentrates on the gifts talented people receive prior to attaining their most notable achievements.

Gladwell draws on a body of research from various scholars and reveals that all-star hockey players, for example, do not simply become all-stars because of their accomplishments as professional athletes. Instead, their achievements are rooted to a larger system of rewards offered early in their childhoods and which continually compound, a process known as “accumulative advantage.” To illustrate his point, Gladwell shows how, on average, young people born in the early months of a given year get a literal and significant head start over their peers who are born in later months of the same year in youth hockey and soccer leagues.

A cursory search of “accumulative advantage” on the web connects that concept to inequality, showing how those fortunate enough to be born or situated in the right time and place receive tremendous advantages and benefits.

What do you think about the workings of accumulative advantage? Or better yet, how should we be thinking and talking about apparently hidden systems of rewards or disadvantages that exist at universities like SIUE?

17 comments:

Rodrick Robins said...

Wow, that was interesting. I think that the workings of accumlative advantage are alive and well from the kindergarten sector all the way up through the Ph.D level. Here at SIUE, I think that we should be publicizing the age old mantra that "life isn't fair", and that some people, most people for that matter, must work harder than others to succeed. People often times believe that the playing field should always be made level andy fair, but I disagree. I believe that if you want something, you should work for it, and earn it, despite other peoples advantages or your personal disadvantages.

Evan Townzen said...

There are definitely opportunities to take advantage of at SIUE. The reason they are advantages though is because they are not known by everyone. If everyone completed the same opportunities there would no longer be an advantage.

To take advantage of these opportunities one must look for them in places not everyone looks, in order to gain even the slightest advantage. This is what the author was trying to convey, the slight advantages will build up over time.

Taking initiative is key in making the most of a college education. Everyone has the class credits, but not everyone has the leadership experience or the teamwork skills from joining a club. Therefore these clubs provide a huge opportunity to gain an advantage in your field.

Deandre Howard said...

The Matthew should be disregarded in my opinion. It sets up the grounds to assume that a large portion of success inequity comes from time; those who are born in the beginning of the year have a large development advantage. This is not the case.

It treats that developmental advantage as a constant that is compounded rather than a variable. Even this variable is not noticeable( if not negligible). All humans develop differently on the basis of human genetics; the genetic inequality is something out of human control which gives no way to aptly "level-the-playing-field" (let alone one's environment, mental conditioning, etc.).

In college environments such as SIUE, there are rarely instances of inequalities based on developmental time. Colleges rarely deviate from meritocracy; one's personal choices and commitment matter more in this environment.

DeAndre H.

Deandre Howard said...

Another thing I will note is statistics of variables. I will note swiftly that the fact that the majority of professionals in sports or any field relating to competition (also subjected to academics) being born in a certain part of the year is not decisive evidence. A link to background information is needed to be paired with the claims/conclusions that their is inequity in development in said field due to birth month; until more aspects are accounted for, I don't think the Matthew Effect would be greatly accepted.

For clarity, I will note about cumulative advantage. Not everyone is handed the same environment. Everyone makes different choices along the way.

Lindsey McCall said...

I believe that at SIUE as well as other colleges accumulative advantage no longer exist. Students are able to test into courses and prove their abilities. There are now programs for those who wouldn't fall under the "gifted" category as well.

Students are also privileged to tutoring and study sessions, unlike in the text where the author described how the "gifted" students were only given those types of privileges.

I do believe that the accumulative advantage does exist, but only with certain sports.

Joi M. said...

I believe this chapter opened my eyes, as well as those of others, to the fact that accumulative advantage exists. I think there should be some type of system set in place to change it, but at the same time I believe it remains unchanged to maintain a sense of having a few elite and those underneath that group. I think that here at SIUe, knowing that we cannot change the affect the accumulative advantages have already had, we should develop separate groups that students could compete with for scholarships and other rewards. I believe that although that will not change the affect the advantages had at any early age, it will even the playing field at this point in time.

Andriana C. said...

It still holds true that some people just happen just happen to be born with advantages and disadvantages based on who they were born to and where they were born. Any college campus or graduate school is a perfect example of this.

Being an African-American female going into the medical profession, I am already at an advantage over others. By being two minorities, I am more likely to get into programs, schools and clubs just to simply diversify the group, not by actually being any better than anyone else. This advantage only became apparent in more recent years. It took time for this advantage to actually become beneficial, like the author implied.

Certain disadvantages at one point in your life can become a financial or social advantage at some point, just like having advantages growing up can turn into disadvantages with time. Having mom and dad's money growing up will likely make you unable to adjust to working hard for things. Having to work your whole life to help your family can make you a more ideal candidate for certain jobs and clubs because of your skills.

Isaiah Blackburn said...

I really enjoyed the first chapter. I never realized how vital cutoff dates could be for someone. It just sets off a domino effect. The more mature are usually more talented and the more "talented" will get more attention and better opportunities which are other key components to being successful. Gladwell does present a reasonable solution by suggesting that we divide education into groups by birth month. This solution does level the playing field if you are only consider the availability of resources. I believe that this is only a temporary solution because other factors like ethnicity and gender will have a greater influence to unbalance the field again. I'm excite to see what other factors he will mention in this book because I'm already hooked.

Sierra Ewing said...

I would agree with Evan when he says, "the slight advantages will build up over time".
It may be a generalization, but a person who comes from a supportive, wealthy, two-parent home with easy access to a solid education and a variety of extra curricular activities seems to be more likely to get opportunities at success than a person who lacks those things.
Like this first chapter addresses, sometimes the things that one cannot choose (like when they are born) that give that slight advantage.
In our society, it is said that everyone has equal opportunity, but I would beg to differ. If a person does not have a good foundation in their home life, their education and so on, they will have to fight extra hard to get to a leveled field.
So if someone can get through their obstacles and get to a place like SIUE where there are so many avenues pointing towards success, all that is required is to take what's given and then work hard to take those resources farther to get to a place of success.

Trion Taylor said...

Rodrick couldn't have said it better. Life truly isn't fair. If it was, I could honestly say that I wouldn't the person I am today. And looking back into the past, I feel that I can see when and where accumulative advantage took place. But I believe that you have to play the cards that you're dealt, and deal with the hardships that life sends your way. While the solutions that Gladwell offers could certainly make a difference, I think that the key to your success is in your own hands. Whether you've been given an advantage or not, at some point your going to have to put in effort to obtain what you most want in life.
As far as accumulative advantage in relation to colleges like SIUE, I believe that you won't see a lot of it at play in this kind of setting, where there is every opportunity to succeed. The resources that are provided to you leave no room for failure. If you've made it this far, certainly you can soar higher than the clouds and not let society bring you down.

gabriel said...

ediWhile reading this, I recalled an article I read in high school about baseball. The article talked about kids in the Dominican Republic that would train at a young age to become baseball players. Only those that were 16, at a certain time of the year, could be contracted to play for American minor leagues teams. Like those that were born in January in Canada; being 16 in the Dominican Republic meant you had a better chance for success.
Here at SIUE I am sure all the students are given the same amount of opportunities. Those that work hard searching, finding, and obtaining those opportunities are the ones better off. However, on the other side not everyone that comes into SIUE have the same background. Some come in with better work ethic then you or sometimes not as good. It is how you use your time and ability that will help you in the end.

Alexandra Donaldson said...

I believe the workings of accumulative advantage aren't as prevalent in today's society, it sill exist but only with certain things. I think we should embrace the hidden systems of rewards that exist at SIUE. I agree with what Evan said "If everyone completed the same opportunities there would no longer be an advantage." In order to get the advantage it can't be right in front of you,you need to dig to uncover it.
Alex D.

Mercedes H said...

Mercedes H
I agree with Lindsey M. There are many ways to prove that accumulative advantage does not exist, especially with class courses. From a young age, there are placement tests and surveys that can gage how an individual doing academically.
On the other hand, once you begin to take those placements test it is hard to get out of it. If you test high then you tend to be in the advanced classes throughout your entire school career. Likewise, if you test badly you are in the "normal" or remedial classes.
When it comes to schooling it is difficult to choose one side or another when focusing on accumulative advantage because it is two sided; it all depends on the individual's situation. Sports on the other hand are extremely dependent on accumulative advantage. Outliers opened my eyes to a matter in which I had no idea.
In the end, accumulative advantage does exist in both forms, it is just a matter of severity. In the US, we see less of it because we are taught since we were born that everyone is equal and deserves the same opportunities. The grand scheme of things would show slightly otherwise but in other countries it does not matter. They want the best of the best to excel beyond what they are capable of.

Rubin Logan said...

I think the workings of accumulative advantage are true and I believe in the advantages. I was put in the same situation for little league football. My birthday was the day before the cut-off birth date for trying out and therefore I was the biggest and had a huge advantage.
We should thinking and talking about this system in a way that we can help other students with disadvantages but also help the students with advantages and push them even higher. SIUE could do a study or research to see if this is actually true outside and inside of sports.
Rubin L.

sierra lucas said...

I believe that their are many advantages at SIUE if you know the right people or look and explore hard enough. I agree with this completely because taking advantage of these opportunities separates those who are wiling to work for it from others.For example by me being in the FAME program I have an advantage over most freshman because I have a team of people behind me that are there to ensure my success, whereas other freshman have to figure these things out for themselves.
Sierra L.

Quincy Sanderlin said...

I actually believe, we should not think to much or focus heavily on "hidden systems" of rewards and disadvantages at this university ,because SIUE has already and continues to address this problem. SIUE offers unlimited resources to help students and school personnel achieve their goals -no matter their situation. From tutoring, scholarships, and more, this college provides support and opportunities for students to gain a college education. While some people may have to work harder than others, focusing to much on the dictum "life isn't fair" will only take attention away from the SIUE programs that help bring equality to all students in gaining an education.

Abriella Jones said...

I do not believe that we should be looking for the advantages and disadvantages between the students among SIUE. There are various programs and aids to help students reach their full academic potential, whether they are born into rich families or poor families or have an early birthday or late. Everyone has the opportunity to become successful; the road getting there may be harder than others, but it all just depends on if you are willing to take the initiative. (Abriella J.)