Notes from A Talk By Malcolm Gladwell

Today I attended Malcolm Gladwell‘s talk on May 4th, 2017 in Chicago, IL at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Here are my notes from his talk:

Gladwell begins by mentioning the talk was inspired by “The Whole United States is Southern” by Charles Payne, Professor at the University of Chicago.

Hypothesis: Is how psychology sees the world inherently flawed? Do we sometimes misattribute psychology and use a tool of psychology to solve a problem that isn’t psychological in nature?

  1. Gladwell cites Brown Vs. Topeka Board of Education (Segregated schools case during Civil Rights Movement)
  2. Mention of theory of self-hatred. Study: Students in segregated schools had lower levels of self-hatred vs. integrated? (Misattribution of cause example.)
  3. Brown made a sociological argument against segregation, while the Board of Education made a psychological argument against it. The reasoning for ruling against segregation is made for psychological causes (white southerner view), Gladwell argues it should be for sociological (African Americans seizing control over the institutions that have power over them.)
    • Sociological = systemic
    • Psychological = feelings of the affected people
  4. Gladwell argues the court shifted a their attention from sociological “power” to psychological “feelings”, a strategy/perspective of white southerners on African Americans, civil rights, etc.
  5. Gladwell remarks on the importance of teachers in education, they are rarely considered of in Brown vs. TBOE
  6. He mentions a (Vanderbilt?) study in which high achievement was linked to having a teacher of the same race. They were also less likely to be suspended.
    • Teachers preferentially treat people more like themselves better?
    • “Lincoln 11” Teacher Case. 11 Black teachers were fired after two schools were desegregated and combined. (I couldn’t find the case by Googling, I may have misheard?)
    • From 1954 – 1965: # of African American teachers decreased from 82,000 to 36,000 due to de-segregation of schools.
  7. Gladwell mentions Smith Vs. Allwright case and notes this may have been more of a landmark case for Civil Rights than Brown Vs. TBOE
  8. Overall shifting of discussion from power (sociological view) to  internal view (psychology) prevailed in Brown vs. TBOE and persists today in America (white southerner view)
    • “We’ve abandoned the sociological mindset”…
  9. Correct response to this: “Stop with introspection and hire black teachers.”
  10. Gladwell: Media prefers psychological narratives
    • Media feedback loop: more attention attracted by psychological perspective
  11. Paraphrase: Gladwell in a roundabout way proposes we randomize school choice for students and remove parental choice from schools
  12. Q: How should African American students proceed given these ideas? A: Solution is somewhere between extremes (interpersonal dynamics vs. structures.) Here Gladwell steps back from his main view in the talk and gives some acknowledgement to the importance of psychological experience vs. sociological, systemic environment.

I do not adopt nor disagree with the views expressed in these notes but will definitely contemplate further as the ideas expressed deal with highly sensitive, relevant issues in our society today. I tried to present these notes without bias or error. I have always enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s books and it was fun to listen to him speak. He is the author of Blink, Outliers, The Tipping Point, and David and Goliath, each of which I have read.

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