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The holistic ministries of The

Salvation Army

The birth of innovation Pharisees anonymous

VOL. 15, NO. 4 • WINTER 2009/2010

Essential assessment

A map that gets our ministry from here to there

Reclaiming wonder Strictly liberating Boot Camp 2010


Growing into success

Offsetting the ‘accumulative advantage’

I am not a parent, pastor or teacher, BY but I was once a little kid. CHRISTIN We’ve all experienced the pressure DAVIS to succeed while growing up—ace the

spelling test and your name gets a star on the board; score enough points and you become a star for the team; make as many friends as possible; receive A’s in your first couple years of high school and you’ll be accepted into the Advanced Placement classes, which will give you a better chance of getting into a better college and thus finding a better job. Societal expectations communicate a need for a child to be “better” than his or her peers because only the “best” truly succeed in life. But how much of this success is based on public influence? The all-stars In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell uses an example from the sports world to demonstrate the dramatic influence society has on an individual’s success. A “meritocracy,” as Gladwell calls it, the Canadian Hockey League is considered the finest junior hockey league in the world for 17 to 19 year olds. Boys begin playing hockey before they are in kindergarten and are sifted and sorted at each age class, channeling the most talented players into an elite league by the mid-teen years. Gladwell suggests the elite are not simply better, but are afforded better opportunity simply by chance. He sites the work of Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley who discovered in the mid-1980s that in any elite group of hockey players, 40 percent have birthdays between January and March, 30 percent between April and June, 20 percent between July and September and 10 percent between October and December. As Gladwell points out, the eligibility cutoff for ageclass hockey in Canada is January 1. A boy who turns 10 on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn 10 until the end of the year, and as he writes, “a 12-month gap in age during preadolescence represents an enormous difference in physical maturity.” The all-star players—who are bigger, more coordinated and older—receive better coaching, better teammates, play more games and practice twice as much.

Barnsley argues the separated out “talented” receive a superior experience and have a huge advantage over everyone else. Gladwell notes that this system of sorting the talented can be found in many endeavors—it’s how America selects baseball players, Europe and South America pick soccer stars, Olympic athletes are chosen, classical music picks its future virtuosos, the world of ballet elects its future ballerinas, or the way our educational system picks future scientists and intellectuals. The ‘Matthew Effect’ Of course, society cannot be entirely credited or blamed for the success or failure of an individual. It is, however, interesting to note the slight and seemingly insignificant influence our decisions can have. Sociologist Robert Merton called this phenomenon the “Matthew Effect,” based on Matthew 25:29, For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. “It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success,” Gladwell wrote. “It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine and 10 year olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage.’” Making it In the church, our influence cannot be underestimated. “We overlook just how large a role we all play—and by ‘we’ I mean society—in determining who makes it and who doesn’t,” Gladwell wrote. This issue of Caring, “Growing,” is meant to encourage anyone who encounters young people— parents, pastors, teachers, caseworkers, friends and role models—to make every child feel confident, loved and destined for a life of achievement. Collectively, we can offset the accumulative advantage with enough support and love so that each child grows into success. n Christin Davis is the managing editor of Caring.



Growing into success - Perspective column  

In the church, our influence cannot be underestimated. This issue of Caring, “Growing,” is meant to encourage anyone who encounters young pe...