I just finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He has a knack for insights and thinking that most of us miss. The premise is that success is less a matter of IQ and talent and more a matter of culture, opportunity and hard work.

The Chinese advantage in math is more a factor of a rice economy that requires more entrepreneurial skill and continuous hard work than western crops that require large periods of idle time.

Chinese linguistics also make math a much more intuitive discipline.

The Chinese school year is much longer, also reflecting the rice economy. The irrigation used in rice improves the land with use, whereas the western farming actually depletes the soil nutrients requiring periods of non use. Rice farmers work more days per year than wheat farmers.

The value of Gladwell’s analysis is to improve opportunity by understanding the impact of cultures and other factors. Blindly throwing money at problems is often wasteful and counterproductive.

He notes that more laptops, computers, smaller class size, is not the key to improving education. More hours and days is the key. Poor people learn as much DURING SCHOOL as rich kids, but richer kids continue learning during the long vacations that are unique to American schools. It is during the vacations that the opportunities available to the wealthier kids make a difference.

The schools are doing their jobs. They just need to be used more.