Eric Mears, a teacher in a public high school in the South Bronx, complains that his high school seniors were required to read a pro-charter essay in a Houghton Mifflin textbook.

The essay, by Malcolm Gladwell, celebrated the work ethic in East Asian schools and at KIPP, while putting down the students’ neighborhood and school.

Mears wonders why Gladwell chooses East Asian schools as models for success instead of the schools of Finland.

He objects to the blatant pro-charter propaganda in the textbook.

He writes:

“I am a South Bronx public school teacher who is expected to teach my students that they must enroll in charter schools and leave “desultory” public schools, such as ours, if they wish to succeed.

“I, along with scores of other New York high school teachers, teach from a Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) Collections textbook whose introductory text is a pro-charter chapter from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. In it, Gladwell advances the stereotype that low-income U.S. students will only succeed if they study as hyper-industrious Japanese and South Korean students do. The text is unsuitable to teach because of its omissions and its failure to answer key counterarguments; even ones that it explicitly raises.”

The story is called “Marita’s Bargain.”
Her bargain is that she gives up her life in exchange for study.

“Gladwell…lauds a typical KIPP student, Marita, for completing so much schoolwork, including six extended days at KIPP and homework requirements, that she has little time to eat, sleep, or talk to her mother – let alone her friends. Thus is “Marita’s bargain.” She made the exceptional and costly choice of sacrificing her social life in favor of working like a “medical resident.””

The ideal of American childhood and schooling used to be “a well-rounded education.” That ideal made is the most successful nation in the world. Why sacrifice the health and well-being of a generation of children in pursuit of higher test scores? The tests themselves predict nothing about the future of a nation and they have so many inherent flaws that they should be used with care, not as a life goal.