Opposing what Gladwell has to say about becoming a master, people don’t learn at the same rate. We’ve already seen evidence of gifted learners and prodigies, who need far fewer than 10,000 hours to become skilled in a subject. However, there are those at the other end of the spectrum as well, who find themselves to be polar opposite to the prodigies. Many people are considered, by themselves or others, to be “slow learners.” Some people have disabilities that leave them unable to acquire knowledge at the speed of their peers, and other people are simply slower about retaining concepts and skills. The ten-thousand-hour rule gives no consideration to these groups although 10,000 hours for them would not have the same effect as someone who learns more in the same time.
Max Balcom wrote an article in the Chicago Tribune back in 1963 about “Slow Learners” in schools. Balcom wrote about a 15-year-old boy still in grade school because he couldn’t pass his classes “He had repeated classes and willingly joined in five different remedial programs”(33). This is a student actively putting in extra “practice” to be better, and can’t become average, certainly not a master. If he is practicing more than other students with “five different remedial programs” how is it that he isn’t showing better mastery than his peers? If practice is the only factor, then he should be great distances ahead of his peers due to his extra voluntary practice.
Gladwell said in Outliers “the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder”(39). Which seems a stark contrast to what we’ve just read about a 15-year-old who works as hard as he can and can’t improve. His teacher said that “failures in elementary school were not his fault. According to his I. Q. scores, in fact, he was overachieving”(33). This boy worked so hard that in a personal scope he could be called an overachiever, yet he couldn’t reach an average level of achievement, despite Gladwell’s claims that success is due to only practice and hard work.