the matthew effect

“For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 25:29) While the words of Jesus can seem incredibly unfair and unjust when taken out of their parabolic context, they ring so true to modern life that, some 40 years ago, sociologists began to talk about “The Matthew Effect.” In a word, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

I just began “reading” (and by reading I mean listening to the audiobook) Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Outliers. Right away, I have been wrestling with this notion that it is neither talent alone, nor is it hard work, that often determines who succeeds and who doesn’t. From pointing out the curious fact that the vast majority of Canadian pro hockey players are born in the first three months of the year (due to receiving greater opportunity for falling right after the age-class eligibility cutoff date of January 1), to the “hidden” aspects of Bill Gates’s rise to success (he came from privilege and was given extraordinary access to learning long before he dropped out of college to begin a software company), Gladwell has cut me to the quick. I hope to see this tension resolved or at least developed more fully as the book continues. Surely there is a way for those not already born with a silver spoon in their mouth to rise up?

Thinking purely about this age cutoff phenomenon, I have to say it’s probably true. When I think of students I have worked with over a period of time (either when I did long-term subbing or as a ministry volunteer), I can identify many whose birthdays fall early in the school/ ministry year who have been tall, athletic, and popular. Conversely, the ones with later birthdays have often been immature (duh), extra squirrelly, and often go to extreme lengths to get the attention that older kids command with little effort. All in the same grade or age group. Granted, in middle school especially there is a huge variety among kids in the same grade everywhere you look, but overall, I think it’s fairly accurate.

twerp

Gladwell also contends that because certain kids are identified early on as gifted or talented, often because they are simply a few months more mature chronologically than their classmates, they get better and better opportunities year after year. Yet they might have seemed quite average if they had been compared to the next year up, and the “average” kids in their own grade might have fared better if the standard of comparison was the next year down.

Are we guilty of putting kids into “tracks” too quickly? And I’m not only talking to my teacher friends here. In ministry, are we locking kids into labels that are neither accurate in the long term nor healthy from the start? Those who seem to show signs of “spiritual maturity” in 6th or 7th grade may lose all interest by high school. And, as many a youth pastor would illustrate, it’s that  wiggly, ADHD, pain-in-the-you-know-what kid that God will grab a hold of someday and use him or her in powerful ways.

The difference between success and mediocrity (let’s not even entertain “failure” as an option in ministry) is often the way the adults in student’s lives view them. In the trenches, perspective is easy to lose, but God can always make a rock star out of the zaniest twerp.

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andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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  • http://www.andrewburden.com andrew burden

    Ron, Go to audible.com and search by title or author. I have a monthly membership, so I’m always getting new audiobooks to challenge and sharpen my mind.

    There’s an article in Christianity Today you might find interesting. It’s about the “myth of the perfect parent.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/january/12.22.html) I’m not a parent yet, but I have walked alongside scores of families as their kids enter middle school and the teenage years. I’ve also watched from the sidelines as the kids grow into healthy adults. While I can’t offer any magic bullets of advice, I will say this. Keep the lines of communication open as wide as possible. He may act like he doesn’t want you around, but he desperately craves his parents’ wisdom and simple presence. Be there. As you seek God together, the rest will fall in place.

  • http://thisisnotabout.me andrew burden

    Ron, Go to audible.com and search by title or author. I have a monthly membership, so I’m always getting new audiobooks to challenge and sharpen my mind.

    There’s an article in Christianity Today you might find interesting. It’s about the “myth of the perfect parent.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/january/12.22.html) I’m not a parent yet, but I have walked alongside scores of families as their kids enter middle school and the teenage years. I’ve also watched from the sidelines as the kids grow into healthy adults. While I can’t offer any magic bullets of advice, I will say this. Keep the lines of communication open as wide as possible. He may act like he doesn’t want you around, but he desperately craves his parents’ wisdom and simple presence. Be there. As you seek God together, the rest will fall in place.

  • Side of BBQ

    Andrew
    Is there a web site I can down load the audio’s?

    I think we are agreeing to some degree but maybe explaining differently. I don’t argue anything you have said.

    I guess what I am trying to say is exactly what you said, Ultimately the ball is in their court.

    The hockey players, even though they are older and farther along still had to play hockey, Bill gates had to do something to create Microsoft.

    If you can take the knowledge you are learning and include it in your surroundings could you become a better and more successful person?

    My question to you is How can we help today’s youth get to know God? Grow with God? Love God? Serve God?

    More then ever the youth in America are surrounded with bad morals from: TV, Movies, Sitcoms, Cartoons, Video Games, Music, Teachers.

    We can not isolate them and then expect them to become disciples? This is why I want to provide them other options that will give them the opportunity to be great achievers, and as Christians.

    My oldest just became a teenager 2 weeks ago any advice you have would be awesome and appreciated.

    Ron Rose

  • Side of BBQ

    Andrew
    Is there a web site I can down load the audio’s?

    I think we are agreeing to some degree but maybe explaining differently. I don’t argue anything you have said.

    I guess what I am trying to say is exactly what you said, Ultimately the ball is in their court.

    The hockey players, even though they are older and farther along still had to play hockey, Bill gates had to do something to create Microsoft.

    If you can take the knowledge you are learning and include it in your surroundings could you become a better and more successful person?

    My question to you is How can we help today’s youth get to know God? Grow with God? Love God? Serve God?

    More then ever the youth in America are surrounded with bad morals from: TV, Movies, Sitcoms, Cartoons, Video Games, Music, Teachers.

    We can not isolate them and then expect them to become disciples? This is why I want to provide them other options that will give them the opportunity to be great achievers, and as Christians.

    My oldest just became a teenager 2 weeks ago any advice you have would be awesome and appreciated.

    Ron Rose

  • http://www.andrewburden.com andrew burden

    Ron -

    Thanks for your input. I would highly recommend Outliers if you get a chance to read or listen. I will continue to bring my thoughts to this blog as I am challenged.

    I agree that personal responsibility is a critical element in one’s success, and I don’t think Gladwell would deny that either. But, he makes a strong argument for the proposition that those who really rise to success have not only worked hard to get where they are, they have also been given opportunities far and away better than their cohorts. As parents, teachers, youth leaders, etc., we need to do all we can do “stack the deck” in their favor, even though ultimately the ball is in their court.

  • http://thisisnotabout.me andrew burden

    Ron -

    Thanks for your input. I would highly recommend Outliers if you get a chance to read or listen. I will continue to bring my thoughts to this blog as I am challenged.

    I agree that personal responsibility is a critical element in one’s success, and I don’t think Gladwell would deny that either. But, he makes a strong argument for the proposition that those who really rise to success have not only worked hard to get where they are, they have also been given opportunities far and away better than their cohorts. As parents, teachers, youth leaders, etc., we need to do all we can do “stack the deck” in their favor, even though ultimately the ball is in their court.

  • Side of BBQ

    I don’t know, I think most of whom we are or whom we could be is directed by the choices we have or had. In grade school our friends were either the neighbor kids or the ones in our classroom. Since our class size was around 20 or less that was the choice we got. In JR high and SR high you have multiple classes with different kids in each one therefore your choices are now much broader.

    People will go were they are most comfortable, If you don’t like sports you probably wont hang out with the Jocks etc. The more alike people start forming groups, each group starts to build an identity. Not everyone in the group agrees with everything but most everything, therefore people start to change and do other things they wouldnt do for the sake of being in the group.

    My thought on this is why not give them other choices. The choices don’t necessarily have to be better that just need to be enough to give them a choice.

    If parents would open up there house so kid party, and just walk through a few times but mostly let them have there space kids could have just as much fun with out alcohol.

    There is lots of other things we could do with our youth that we don’t, so the choices they have are the ones created by the world.

    Most parents have very little faith in their children, that’s why they don’t like them or don’t want them to attend events. When we as parents tell them they can’t go to a party, or concert, or spring break trip, etc. We don’t offer them anything in its place. We just stop at NO.

    All people will find away to get by, some will take hold of choices given them, others will make their own.

    If you have an opportunity to help some one what choices are you giving them?

    If you have an opportunity to help your self what kind of choices do you have?

    Ron Rose

  • Side of BBQ

    I don’t know, I think most of whom we are or whom we could be is directed by the choices we have or had. In grade school our friends were either the neighbor kids or the ones in our classroom. Since our class size was around 20 or less that was the choice we got. In JR high and SR high you have multiple classes with different kids in each one therefore your choices are now much broader.

    People will go were they are most comfortable, If you don’t like sports you probably wont hang out with the Jocks etc. The more alike people start forming groups, each group starts to build an identity. Not everyone in the group agrees with everything but most everything, therefore people start to change and do other things they wouldnt do for the sake of being in the group.

    My thought on this is why not give them other choices. The choices don’t necessarily have to be better that just need to be enough to give them a choice.

    If parents would open up there house so kid party, and just walk through a few times but mostly let them have there space kids could have just as much fun with out alcohol.

    There is lots of other things we could do with our youth that we don’t, so the choices they have are the ones created by the world.

    Most parents have very little faith in their children, that’s why they don’t like them or don’t want them to attend events. When we as parents tell them they can’t go to a party, or concert, or spring break trip, etc. We don’t offer them anything in its place. We just stop at NO.

    All people will find away to get by, some will take hold of choices given them, others will make their own.

    If you have an opportunity to help some one what choices are you giving them?

    If you have an opportunity to help your self what kind of choices do you have?

    Ron Rose