Canadian Hockey and American Education
By Bobby Neal Winters
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success contains a marvelous case study on amateur hockey in Canada. The folks in Canada hold the game of hockey at a level of esteem that I find mystifying. Apparently they put a stick in a kid’s hand by the time he’s big enough to hold it. They really care.
A study was done in which it was found that virtually all of the players on the elite championship team were born in the few months of the year and players born at the end of the year are virtually missing. The reason for this is that amateur hockey leagues in Canada have an age cut off date on January 1. The kids who are born in January are a year more mature than those born in the same year but in December. They get on the first team; they get more coaching; ultimately they get to play more.
This extra play, extra attention, better coaching pays off incrementally and over time it manifests in players from that latter half of the year simply disappearing.
Gladwell, who is Canadian and possibly hockey-crazy himself as a result, argues that if the system was organised differently--say with a second league of players born in the second half of the year--that Canada could half twice as many championship level hockey players.
This case study serves as a guiding example for the thrust of the book: American education could be approached differently to achieve better results.
In education, the dividing line isn’t January 1st; it’s social class. The middle class have advantages that makes them more educable that the working class. Children from middle class families are more entitled than those from working class families; they are much better at working within institutional systems.They come into their class by virtue of the good choices their forebears have made.
Here I want to share some thoughts. I come from a working class family. I competed along the way with some of those middle class kids. Hind sight being twenty-twenty, I can see where they had some know-how about some things that I didn’t. I also see where I had a lot of help along the way from other people. Now I find myself in a position where I’ve got some middle class kids of my own and I want them to have every advantage possible, but I also have a desire to give a hand in the way a hand was given me.
It is at this point when I am in danger of getting warm and fuzzy that I’d like to go back to Gladwell’s Canadian Hockey example. In particular, I want to talk about the idea that you could make twice as many good hockey players if you had a league for the second half of the year. You run into resource issues right off the bat because either you are going to need twice as many coaches or the coaches you do have are going to have to work twice as hard. Good coaches are just as scarce as good players.
But this is Canada, so maybe they love chasing a damn a checker around on the ice enough to take out of their hides long enough to double their numbers and bring out a new generation of hockey players twice as numerous as all previous generations.
Even if you care for the game, this isn’t a guarantee of winning any more Olympic medals. Quite frankly they may already have more than enough talent to dominate the sport. There are only so many players that can be at the top. Doubling that number doesn’t mean that they win more. It means that more good players will be locked off the championship team.
In the mean time, unless there is care taken to insure high quality coaching, there is no guarantee that two leagues will produce better players. Indeed, if the level of play is diluted the quality might go down.
Okay, let’s talk about education again. I do think that it’s important. It was my ticket to the middle class and I like it here. The beds are soft; the cars are nice; and I don’t have as big a chance of losing fingers like my Grampa Sam did.
All of that having been said, we have to use our educational resources wisely.
There is a broad range of opinion on how to do this much of it quite heated. There are people from both ends of the political spectrum who care very deeply. Malcolm Gladwell tends toward the left, but I discovered that he and Thomas Sowell, who leans a bit toward the right, to be in a surprising amount of agreement.
Sowell addresses the topic of education in his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Without going into too deep of analysis, let me summarized by saying that they agree on the need for professionalism on the part of the teachers and hard work on the part of the students. After that, agreement might be harder to come by.
I’ve don’t have enough insight into the heart of Man to know how to make students work harder in today’s culture, so let’s look at the other end.Good teachers are in just a short supply as good hockey coaches. We need to take care of the ones we have and work to make new ones.
It’s something to work on.