In one of the small towns surrounding Lake Tiberias, there was once a man who was deeply reviled by everyone in his community. He was considered to be a traitor, supporting the “enemy” through his occupation. Everybody hated him – he was considered corrupt and the people around him believed that he would never amount to anything in life. One day, a famous teacher came into town, and many people gathered about him to hear his great wisdom. Not so for this “traitor”; he felt too ashamed to even consider mingling with the crowds and listening to this great teacher’s words. He was an outcast, and what great teacher would like to see an outcast among his students?
However, while this man was sitting in his office, going about his daily work which his countrymen most detested, the teacher unexpectedly approached him and said two words which would forever change this wicked man’s life: “Follow me.” The man immediately followed the teacher.
He learned much from the teacher and was chosen to be part of the people closest to him. He was trained to boldly approach the people who once hated him in order to share the message of hope to them. When the teacher left earth, he went abroad in order to pass on what he was taught. Decades afterward, he wrote a biography of that great teacher, which, after hundreds of years, still remains as one of the most read books in the world.
If it’s still not obvious who this man is, his name is Matthew, and the biography that he wrote is the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament in the Bible. Obviously, the great teacher is Jesus Christ. And the loathsome job that Matthew had was being a tax collector, which is almost the same as the tax collectors we have today, save for the fact that the Jews were paying taxes to their Roman masters instead of their own government. Although some few details were added, I try to stay true to the original narrative (which can be found in Matthew 9:9 and Mark 2:13-14).
The Matthew Effect
Interestingly enough, though, Matthew is also known as the namesake for what sociologists call as the “Matthew Effect”, which might be more familiar as the phenomenon where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” The Matthew Effect derives its name from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:29, “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, explains it simply as “it is those who are successful who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success.”
But the question is, why?
Well, as it turns out, there is a simple, logical explanation behind all of that. Imagine a class of elementary students and you are their teacher. Let’s say that you just finished grading their first quiz and found out their scores ranges from 89 – 95. Suddenly, there’s an announcement that there will be an upcoming mathematics competition and that there can only be one student representing the class. Of course, not wanting your class to lose, you decide to get who you consider as the “best” in class.
And how would you decide on who would be the best? Well, one way is for you to take the student who got the highest score in the quiz, even if his score is only one or two points higher than his peers, and enlist him as the representative of the class. You could also make a sort of “elimination round” to see which one is the “best” by, again, taking the highest scorer even though his score is just marginally higher than that of his classmates.
Let’s say that it’s Tommy who got the highest score. Of course, not wanting to be too confident that the child can do it all by himself, you decide to train him in mathematics after class hours, thus slightly widening his advantage in mathematics over his friends who have already gone home. By the end of the week, Tommy has improved a little bit more than that of his classmates. When the next mathematics contest arises, the teacher, even if it’s not you anymore, would more or less have the same process of choosing his candidate, and would more likely get Tommy, who had the advantage of extra hours of training.Tommy once again undergoes training and comes with a still slightly higher advantage than that of his friends.
The Training Cycle
The process repeats itself again and again, and by the time these students are in high school, Tommy is now considered to be a genius at mathematics and is now way ahead of his peers just because he got a point or two higher in an un-noteworthy test a few years back.
The Matthew Effect tells us that while there may be people who are a tad bit smarter than the rest in the beginning, it all boils down to the amount of training that they receive. And this sociological phenomenon isn’t just exclusive to the classroom; it also applies to almost every aspect of our society, whether it’d be music, the arts, or even sports. The Matthew Effect, however, as we shall see next week, implies that things are not set in stone, and with a little hard work and that golden word called “opportunity”, anyone can be successful.
Honeyfer Amancio is currently taking up his undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering in the University of the Phillipines, Diliman. He loves to teach in his spare time and dreams to become a professor in either science or mathematics one day. For any questions, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org