First-year students to read and discuss ‘Outliers’

June 30, 2009

If customer reviews and late-night talk shows are any indication, this year’s freshman class will arrive poised for debate. And that’s exactly why the committee selected “The Outliers” as this year’s summer reading.

“The book challenges assumptions about American exceptionality and the power of all to be successful,” says Debora Johnson-Ross, associate professor of Political Science and associate dean of Academic Affairs. “These are ideas that should make for great discussions.”

In those discussions, there will be no “wrong” answers. Instead, the Class of 2013 – in classic McDaniel style – will exercise and sharpen critical thinking skills. McDaniel’s newest students will begin to learn how to build opinions on facts whether they believe that “Outliers” author Malcolm Gladwell truly does tell the story of success or if he tells the stories of others’ success.

Among the nearly 430 first-year students from 25 states and six foreign countries, there may be just as many differing ideas about the messages of “The Outliers.”

Some may even agree with Gladwell, noted author of “The Tipping Point” and contributor to New Yorker magazine, who said on his website, “My wish with ‘Outliers’ is that it makes us understand how much of a group project success is. When outliers become outliers it is not just because of their own efforts. It's because of the contributions of lots of different people and lots of different circumstances— and that means that we, as a society, have more control about who succeeds—and how many of us succeed—than we think. That's an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.”

Everyone will have an opportunity to air their ideas during discussions led by college deans and provost, professors and peer mentors that begin at 10 a.m. Aug. 20, the day after the recent high school grads become official McDaniel College students.

First Year Seminar professors often incorporate the summer reading into their classes in some way – and now that online registration is winding down, the book should be a topic on the unofficial Facebook page for freshmen.

The Class of 2013 is the third class to have its studies guided by the college’s new undergraduate curriculum, known as The McDaniel Plan. This curriculum for the 21st century offers increased emphasis on global, multicultural and interdisciplinary perspectives and special learning opportunities during each year of college. Among the year-specific studies are first-year seminars, sophomore interdisciplinary studies, junior writing experience and senior capstone project – all of which support the college’s commitment to provide a life-changing learning experience.

“In ‘Blink’ and ‘Tipping Point,’ and now in ‘Outliers,’ Malcolm Gladwell has been teaching us to ignore familiar approaches and conventional wisdoms and to see and think in new and different ways,” says Tom Falkner, vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the faculty. “This is precisely what we ask our students to do, and our exciting new curriculum, the McDaniel Plan, introduces them to the power of this kind of critical thinking – they learn not only how to answer questions but how to question answers.  Asking them to read ‘Outliers’ will be an important first step in the process.”