Outliers Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9 and the Epilogue


Gladwell opens Chapter 9, "Marita's Bargain," by providing a brief history of the KIPP (or 'Knowledge Is Power Program') middle school in New York. KIPP students are selected by lottery, and mostly hail from relatively poor households. KIPP students are remarkable for their quiet and respectful demeanor, and are even more remarkable for their high level of mathematical discipline and achievement.

Gladwell then outlines earlier trends in American public schooling. From the early nineteenth century on, education reformers endeavored not only to create orderly school schedules and curricula, but also to make sure that schooling did not become an overbearing influence. To make sure that students would not be put under undue pressure, American schools embraced long summer vacations to prevent student exhaustion. Yet Gladwell is skeptical of the value of long summer vacations, and uses data from sociologist Karl Alexander to build his case.

Alexander's data reveal that students in upper, middle, and lower income brackets all start off at roughly similar academic levels. But over time, lower-income students' test scores progressively worsen. The problem is that lower-income students are most strongly harmed by long summer vacations; while upper-income students may enjoy stimulating learning activities that result in productive summers, their lower-income peers typically do not. This problem is sadly complemented by the fact that the 180-day standard American school year is significantly shorter than the standard school years in South Korea and Japan.

To address these problems, KIPP embraces a curriculum based on constant work. Students must show great initiative and endurance to succeed, but teachers give them the opportunity to work through math problems on their own, in a dynamic manner. Gladwell establishes these points by recording scenes from a visit to a KIPP school, and then offers testimony from a student named Marita. Marita lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her mother, and typically gets up around 5:45 in the morning and goes to sleep at 11:00 at night. Her day involves constant hard work, but the KIPP curriculum encourages her to keep a firm schedule and complete her assignments.

For Gladwell, the importance of KIPP is that it offers students such as Marita the opportunity to value their own efforts and attain academic success. The other figures profiled in Outliers thrived for similar reasons. What really matters, more than genius, is the chance to perfect one's skills and perform work that is fundamentally meaningful and worthwhile.

Gladwell's Epilogue, "A Jamaican Story," opens with an account of a Jamaican woman named Daisy Nation. Daisy and her husband, Donald, worked as schoolteachers in Jamaica; in 1931, Daisy gave birth to twin girls. The two Nation girls were well educated and one of them, Joyce, eventually made her way to England and married a mathematician named Graham. Joyce and Graham, it turns out, are Malcolm Gladwell's own parents.

After laying out this narrative, Gladwell explains a few important changes in Jamaican culture. After a wave of unrest in 1937, Jamaica began using scholarships to expand access to education. Daisy Nation pushed to have her two daughters accepted to St. Hilda's, a school mainly for upper-income children. When it came time for Gladwell's mother to attend college, Daisy Nation approached a Chinese shopkeeper, Mr. Chance, and took out a loan in order to send Joyce abroad.

There is also an important ethnic background to Gladwell's family. In Jamaica, male slave-owners traditionally had affairs and relationships with their female slaves. One of Gladwell's ancestors was a slave-owner named William Ford; Daisy Ford was one of William's direct descendants and possessed, as a result of her part-Caucasian background, lighter skin that allowed her social advantages denied to darker-skinned Jamaicans.

Though the relatively light-skinned Joyce was at an advantage in Jamaica, she found that her ethnicity put her at a disadvantage in other contexts. In England, for instance, she and Graham had difficulty finding housing. (Joyce recorded one such encounter with discrimination in Brown Face, Big Master, a book about her own life experiences.) Gladwell is aware of how all these seemingly random and arbitrary factors (location, skin color, and opportunity) play a role in guiding virtually any success. He ends Outliers by acknowledging that history and community are the factors that make success possible, in his own family and beyond.


Gladwell's account of the KIPP schools combines large, statistical measures with small, anecdotal evidence. After considering broad trends in public education and considerable amounts of data on student learning patterns, Gladwell shifts his focus to Marita, a girl studying at the KIPP school. This shift serves to put a more human and intimate angle on a large sociological issue; it also indicates that Marita is a representative case, that Gladwell's observations about her may hold true for many of the students considered in the broader data.

Throughout Outliers, Gladwell has allowed his subjects--from Chris Langan to the Avianca pilots--to speak in their own voices. He follows the same tactic with Marita, who describes her days at KIPP. According to Gladwell, Marita "spoke in the matter-of-fact way of children who have no way of knowing how unusual their situation is" (265). Indeed, Marita's long hours of studying are remarkable, but they are simply part of her life. The greatest success of KIPP, perhaps, is not that it raises math scores but that it prepares its students to regard hard work as second-nature.

Yet in another sense, Marita's situation is not "unusual" at all. Her opportunity to attend KIPP is meaningful but is (like most opportunities in Outliers) the product of happy circumstances. Keep in mind that KIPP students are chosen by lottery: the same randomness that determines success in hockey or corporate law is present here. In fact, Gladwell himself was the beneficiary of such randomness. His mother received a quality education in part because of the efforts of Gladwell's grandmother, in part because of odd circumstances regarding scholarships and loans.

By extension, Gladwell's readers themselves are the products of the forces that have been discussed throughout Outliers. The account of Gladwell's family should prompt readers to consider the roles of their own families in determining failure and success, as should Gladwell's final remarks on the universal forces that determine achievement. Successful people "are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy" (285). Outliers has shown that these forces, though powerful and abiding, can occur in combination upon combination, guiding the most different individuals to meaningful success.