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Reposted from sbaglia.com

If you could teach your students one lesson from outside the curriculum, what would it be?

For mine, it would be that old chestnut, "It's not what you know, it's who you know".

I used to think this phrase was a synonym for nepotism, but either I had it wrong all along or, with the advent of social media, it has come to take on a new meaning. I'm reading "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell, and I found this paragraph which showed the importance of who you know better than I ever could...

In his classic 1974 study "Getting a Job", Granovetter looked at several hundred professional and technical workers from the Boston suburb of Newton, interviewing them in some detail on their employment history.He found that 56% of those he talked to found their job through a personal connection... But curiously, Granovetter found that of those personal connections, the majority were "weak ties". Of those who used a contact to find a job, only 16.7% saw that contact "often" - as they would if the contact were a good friend - and 55.6% saw their contact "rarely". People weren't getting their jobs through their friends. They were getting them through their acquaintances.

Why is this? Granovetter argues that it is because when it comes to finding out about new jobs - or, for that matter, new information, or new ideas - "weak ties" are always more important than strong ones. Your friends, after all, occupy the same world that you do. They might work with you, or live near you, and go to the same churches, schools, or parties. How much, then, would they know that you wouldn't know? Your acquaintances, on the other hand, by definition occupy a very different world than you. They are much more likely to know something that you don't. To capture this apparent paradox, Granovetter coined a marvelous phrase: the strength of weak ties. Acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.


I think this a big reason as to why I am so fervent in my belief around the two international communities I have set up - the Writers' Club and Science @ The NorthSchool. They allow students to create weak ties with people that are different to them. They know things they don't know, and they can help our students access new information or, more excitingly, generate new ideas.

The idea that the absence of a variety of weak ties in disadvantages communities limits opportunities for students from those communities has been floating around in my head for the last couple of weeks. Students from big cities, with educated and/or wealthy parents, are likely to have access to these weak ties - note how my cousin from last week was able to access me, someone with a PhD in chemistry, for help with her chemistry homework. However, for students in remote places, small places, or who come from a background of disadvantage, perhaps these weak ties can make them more powerful and give them a better chance to compete with their better connected peers.

With the Writers' Club, it gives students the opportunity to form weak ties with students from other countries; with Science @ The North School, it gives them the opportunity to form weak ties with real-life scientists.  In a small country town like Castlemaine, these opportunities are harder to come by, even for those with an educated background, much less those with a history of disadvantage.

If it really is "who you know", I want to give my students every opportunity to know the world.

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