The Tipping Point
by Jay Davidson
I picked up a copy of The Stanford Daily on the train recently; it's not a paper that I frequently read. Daniel Hsia, a major in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, referred in his column to The Tipping Point, a book by Malcolm Gladwell. The subtitle of Gladwell's book offers valuable information: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
Gladwell has made a study of significant changes that result when influential people change the way they approach problems. One of Hsia's examples was the significant decrease in violent crime after the New York City Transit Authority instituted a serious campaign to rid the subways of graffiti.
I am thankful to Hsia for these lessons he taught me in his column, and I pass them on to you:
1. The roles of teacher and student are interchangeable.
We have set things up so that older people are predominantly teachers, while younger people are their students. It is possible, however, for things to work the other way around. Let's be open to ways that our younger people can teach us lessons that we need to learn. What have you learned from a younger person lately?
2. Be open to alternative sources for information.
We get used to listening to the same radio programs, watching the same televised news reports, and reading the same periodicals for information. But why not shake things up and get a fresh perspective by listening to a different talk show host or reading a different periodical?
3. It's valuable to have confirmation that we are on the right path.
I believe that the greatest difference in children's learning will be made when parents get involved on two levels: their personal education of the children within the family life and the care for making the school a better place in which all children learn.
Parents are the most influential people in their children's lives! Think of all the positive changes that can take place when these adults decide to focus their actions in this direction. The confirmation of my own theory gives me additional strength to continue my writing and speaking out on this issue.
There are two specific families that have not only made changes in their children's lives, but have done so against all odds.
I continue to be impressed by the story of Cedric Jennings, as chronicled in the book A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind. Cedric grew up in the notoriously impoverished area of Southeast Washington, DC. Two things, though, distinguished him from his high school peers: the drive that his mother transmitted to him and the internalized desire that he wanted to succeed in school and then in life beyond school.
The story in the book takes us from Cedric's junior year in high school through his freshman year at Brown University. (Despite the difficulties he experienced as being an outsider at Brown, he graduated with the Class of 2000.)
Another story was recently in the news: the Chavez family of Albuquerque, NM had such a focused intent toward their children's education that they were able to send all five children not only to the best private high school in town, but onward -- all five of them -- to Harvard University. In addition to that education, three of the Chavez children have achieved graduate degrees at Stanford.
These stories are particularly inspiring to me because the families belong to minority groups that have been tremendously disenfranchised in our society. They have beaten the odds against them by setting goals, making sacrifices, and working together.
There are lessons that all families can learn from these stories:
- Parents are responsible for taking a leadership role and setting the tone for goals to be achieved by family members.
- The entire family must focus on each child's education by making it a priority in their lives.
- Sacrifices of short-term material possessions will pay off in long-term success for the children.
- Your socioeconomic status and family heritage are barriers to your success only if you permit them to be.
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