Tag Archives: Ten-thousand hour rule

Seed Corn for the Future

Yes, I’m always talking about the value current events serve in driving home valuable lessons and insights to Extension educators.

4-H Clover

4-H: One of America's Most Indispensable Youth Programs

New York Times columnist David Brooks drives home yet another valuable lesson in today’s column.

Folklore abounds with tales of people yielding to the temptation of eating seed corn during unusually lean times.

As Brooks soberly observes, this era of fiscal austerity is one such time.  Many policy makers are threatening to consume precious seed corn — wealth better invested in the human crop of the future: youth.

…legislators and administrators are simply cutting on the basis of what’s politically easy and what vaguely seems expendable. In education, many administrators are quick to cut athletics, band, cheerleading, art and music because they have the vague impression that those are luxuries. In fact, they are exactly the programs that keep kids in school and build character.

Brooks is spot on again. We need to be underscoring to policy makers why our own educational outreach program, 4-H, is anything but a frivolous program — why it continues to play an essential role in fostering the skills that keep kids engaged and in school.

I’ve been impressed within the past few days with how several Extension professionals throughout the country are engaging in old-fashioned story-telling, focusing on tangible examples of kids whose 4-H involvement has had a direct bearing on their staying in school, going onto college and pursuing a lifetime passion they acquired through the informal, hands-on learning associated with 4-H.

4-H offers immense opportunities for enriching the learning experience at a critical juncture in this nation’s history.

In an earlier column, Brooks stressed how much the success of this nation in the 21st century will be determined by how closely it hews to the old-fashioned bourgeois values that have distinguished it in the past: self-discipline, punctuality and personal responsibility, to name only three.

Likewise, the longstanding American reverence for practical science and critical thinking, which vaulted this country to the forefront of scientific and technological leadership in the 20th century appears to be steadily eroding.

As Brooks observed in an earlier column, Americans have “drifted away from the hardheaded practical mentality that built the nation’s wealth in the first place.”

What youth organization is better equipped than 4-H — and, for that matter, its sister organization, FFA — to provide young people with a renewed appreciation for practical science and critical thinking and to restore these values to a preeminent place in American life?

4-H arguably has another critical rule to fill: putting young people squarely on the path toward acquiring the levels of immersion in learning and related skills considered crucial for high achievement in life — what social critic Malcolm Gladwell has described as the 10,000 hour rule.

Research has revealed that outstanding creators and innovators throughout history have spent a minimum 10,000 hours — roughly 10 years — learning and perfecting their skills.

This insight speaks volumes about the sort of role informal, unstructured learning activities serve in putting kids squarely on the road to lifetime success.  It also underscores why so-called frivolous school activities such as art, music, cheerleading —and, yes, 4-H — should be valued for what they are: critical pathways to lifetime self-mastery and achievement.

Let’s not allow these valuable lesson to be lost on our policy makers, those who are threatening to consume all of our seed corn.

4-H is seed corn for the most critical crop of all: young people.

Expertise Research: Lessons for 4-H?

Malcolm Gladwell, a native Canadian, has been accused of holding Canadian views on the factors behind high achievement.  Success, he contends, stems from more than just latent talent and a rugged individualistic desire to succeed. 

Whether these views reflect Canadian or American values, I do believe they fall close to the truth.

Success does not stem from raw talent alone.  Indeed, Gladwell says a number of psychologists specializing in expertise research have determined that there is an especially significant factor associated with high achievement — one that Gladwell calls the 10,000-hour rule.  Simply put, great creators throughout history have spent a minimum 10,000 hours, or 10 years, working diligently to perfect their skills.

Gladwell describes this phenomenon in his bestselling book Outliers: The Story of Success.

Every great composer, for example, has composed for about a decade before he writes his master work.  Mozart, considered by many to be the greatest of all, was no exception. 

“Mozart is composing at 11, but he’s composing garbage,” Gladwell says.  “He doesn’t compose anything great until he’s 22 or 23.”

Gladwell says the research he’s done into this phenomenon has driven home a vital lesson: that society is not allowing sufficient enough time to for people to master complex skills.

“We are far too impatient with people,” he says. “We assess what it takes for people to do a certain job.  We always want to make that assessment after 6 months or a year and that’s ridiculous.”

“The kind of jobs we require people to do today are sufficiently complex that they require a long time to reach mastery.  What we should be doing is setting up institutions and structures that allow people to spend the time and effort to reach mastery, not judging them prematurely.”

Consider the number of people throughout history who, while possessing tremendous potential, were passed through educational institutions by educators who either did not readily discern their gifts or simply lacked sufficient patience.

Speaking as a Cooperative Extension professional, this raises an intriguing question: Could 4-H help fill this breach by providing children with the levels of immersion they need to acquire these high-level skills?

I think the answer is obvious.  The findings of expertise researchers present 4-H and other publicly and privately supported grassroots organizations with tremendous opportunities to fill this breach.