How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

4.3 36
by Paul Tough
     
 

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What if, for decades, we've emphasized the wrong skills and used the wrong strategies to move children toward success in school and in life? Sure, intelligence matters, Paul Tough writes, but it is just one part of the success equation. 

Tough introduces readers to the psychologists, neuroscientists, and economists who are solving the mysteries of

Overview

What if, for decades, we've emphasized the wrong skills and used the wrong strategies to move children toward success in school and in life? Sure, intelligence matters, Paul Tough writes, but it is just one part of the success equation. 

Tough introduces readers to the psychologists, neuroscientists, and economists who are solving the mysteries of character, exploring traits like perseverance, optimism, grit, curiosity, and conscientiousness.  How do these traits develop? And why they are such powerful predictors of success?

Through the engrossing, inspiring stories of children, parents, teachers, and mentors, Tough investigates questions at the heart of the success equation:  How do you turn a D student into a national chess champion? How are affluent parents preventing their children from developing grit? What simple message helps girls improve their math scores by 10 percentage points? And why does the U.S. produce more college dropouts than any other country?

This rich and provocative dispatch will not only vitally engage readers, it will change our understanding of childhood itself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This American Life contributor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America) tackles new theories on childhood education with a compelling style that weaves in personal details about his own child and childhood. Personal narratives of administrators, teachers, students, single mothers, and scientists lend support to the extensive scientific studies Tough uses to discuss a new, character-based learning approach. While traditional education relies heavily on memorization, new research conducted by James Heckman suggests that the conventional wisdom represented by those third-grade multiplication tables has failed some of our most vulnerable students. Tough takes the reader through experiments that studied childhood nurture, or attachment theory, to report cards that featured character strength assessments (measuring “grit,” gratitude, optimism, curiosity, self-control, zest, and social intelligence). Focused on schools in Chicago and New York, Tough explores the effects of racial and socioeconomic divides through the narratives of survivors of an outdated system. The ultimate lesson of Tough’s quest to explain a new wave of educational theories is that character strengths make up perhaps the single most compelling element of a child’s education, and these traits are rooted deep within the chemistry of the brain. Tough believes that it is society’s responsibility to provide those transformative experiences that will create its most productive future members. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Turning the conventional wisdom about child development on its head, New York Times Magazine editor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, 2008) argues that non-cognitive skills (persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence) are the most critical to success in school and life. Building on reporting for his magazine, the author interviewed economists, psychologists and neuroscientists, examined their recent research and talked to students, teachers and principals to produce this fascinating overview of a new approach with "the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net." At a time when policymakers favor the belief that disadvantaged kids have insufficient cognitive training, Tough finds that a new generation of researchers are questioning the cognitive hypothesis. Foremost among them is Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economist James Heckman, who since 2008 has been convening economists and psychologists to discuss significant questions: Which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? What interventions might help children do better? Tough summarizes key research, such as the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, a project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, which revealed a stunning correlation between traumatic childhood events and negative adult outcomes. Others have shown that the effects of childhood stress can be buffered by close, nurturing relationships. Assessing such evidence, Heckman says policymakers intent on closing the achievement gap between affluent and poor children must go beyond classroom interventions and supplement the parenting resources of disadvantaged Americans. Families, he says, "are the main drivers of children's success in school." Heckman's thinking informs the book, which includes many examples of failing disadvantaged students who turned things around by acquiring character skills that substituted for the social safety net enjoyed by affluent students. Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential reading for anyone who cares about childhood in America.
The New York Times Book Review
In this absorbing and important book, Tough explains why American children from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum are missing out on these essential [overcoming failure] experiences. The offspring of affluent parents are insulated from adversity, beginning with their baby-proofed nurseries and continuing well into their parentally financed young adulthoods. And while poor children face no end of challenges—from inadequate nutrition and medical care to dysfunctional schools and neighborhoods—there is often little support to help them turn these omnipresent obstacles into character-enhancing triumphs. The book illuminates the extremes of American childhood: for rich kids, a safety net drawn so tight it's a harness; for poor kids, almost nothing to break their fall.
—Annie Murphy Paul
From the Publisher

"Drop the flashcards - grit, character, and curiosity matter even more than cognitive skills. A persuasive wake-up call."
People Magazine

"In this absorbing and important book, Tough explains why American children from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum are missing out on these essential experiences. … The book illuminates the extremes of American childhood: for rich kids, a safety net drawn so tight it’s a harness; for poor kids, almost nothing to break their fall."
—Annie Murphy Paul, The New York Times Book Review

"An engaging book that casts the school reform debate in a provocative new light. … [Tough] introduces us to a wide-ranging cast of characters — economists, psychologists, and neuroscientists among them — whose work yields a compelling new picture of the intersection of poverty and education."
—Thomas Toch, The Washington Monthly

"Mr. Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, combines compelling findings in brain research with his own first-hand observations on the front lines of school reform. He argues that the qualities that matter most to children’s success have more to do with character – and that parents and schools can play a powerful role in nurturing the character traits that foster success. His book is an inspiration. It has made me less of a determinist, and more of an optimist."
—Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail

"How Children Succeed is a must-read for all educators. It’s a fascinating book that makes it very clear that the conventional wisdom about child development is flat-out wrong."
—School Leadership Briefing

"I loved this book and the stories it told about children who succeed against big odds and the people who help them. … It is well-researched, wonderfully written and thought-provoking."
—Siobhan Curious, Classroom as Microcosm

"How to Succeed takes readers on a high-speed tour of experimental schools and new research, all peppered with anecdotes about disadvantaged youths overcoming the odds, and affluent students meeting enough resistance to develop character strengths."
—James Sweeney, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[This] wonderfully written new book reveals a school improvement measure in its infancy that has the potential to transform our schools, particularly in low-income neighborhoods."
—Jay Mathews, Washington Post

"Nurturing successful kids doesn’t have to be a game of chance. There are powerful new ideas out there on how best to equip children to thrive, innovations that have transformed schools, homes, and lives. Paul Tough has scoured the science and met the people who are challenging what we thought we knew about childhood and success. And now he has written the instruction manual. Every parent should read this book – and every policymaker, too." 
— Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit

"I wish I could take this compact, powerful, clear-eyed, beautifully written book and put it in the hands of every parent, teacher and politician. At its core is a notion that is electrifying in its originality and its optimism: that character — not cognition — is central to success, and that character can be taught. How Children Succeed will change the way you think about children. But more than that: it will fill you with a sense of what could be." 
—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

"Turning the conventional wisdom about child development on its head, New York Times Magazine editor Tough argues that non-cognitive skills (persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence) are the most critical to success in school and life....Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential reading for anyone who cares about childhood in America."
—STARRED Kirkus Reviews

“This American Life contributor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America) tackles new theories on childhood education with a compelling style that weaves in personal details about his own child and childhood. Personal narratives of administrators, teachers, students, single mothers, and scientists lend support to the extensive scientific studies Tough uses to discuss a new, character-based learning approach." 
Publishers Weekly 

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547564654
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/04/2012
Pages:
231
Sales rank:
479,641
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

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Excerpt

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential [listening] for anyone who cares about childhood in America." —-Kirkus Starred Review

Meet the Author

Paul Tough is an editor at the New York Times Magazine and one of America's foremost writers on poverty, education, and the achievement gap. His reporting on Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone originally appeared as a Times Magazine cover story. He lives with his wife in New York City.

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How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 36 reviews.
popscipopulizer More than 1 year ago
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, on or before Monday September 17. When it comes to a child's future success, the prevailing view recently has been that it depends, first and foremost, on mental skills like verbal ability, mathematical ability, and the ability to detect patterns--all of the skills, in short, that lead to a hefty IQ. However, recent evidence from a host of academic fields--from psychology, to economics, to education, to neuroscience--has revealed that there is in fact another ingredient that contributes to success even more so than a high IQ and impressive cognitive skills. This factor includes the non-cognitive qualities of perseverance, conscientiousness, optimism, curiosity and self-discipline--all of which can be included under the general category of `character'. In his new book `How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character' writer Paul Tough explores the science behind these findings, and also tracks several alternative schools, education programs and outreach projects that have tried to implement the lessons--as well as the successes and challenges that they have experienced. Tough's writing style is very readable, honest and unpretentious, and he does an excellent job of supporting the scientific evidence that he introduces with interesting and powerful anecdotes (indeed, many of these are enough to bring you to tears). This is a strong argument in favor of paying closer to attention to cultivating character in young people, both in our personal lives and in our public policy. A full executive summary of this book will be available at the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com on or before Monday, September 17; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A highly readable account and convinciargument whys about why it is not enough to learn (and forget) information or problem solving skills, we need non-cognitive skills like persistence and resilience to succeed. Those skills can be taught...and must be taught, especially to children whose poverty and resulting dislocations put them most at risk. This book can help us change the education paradigm and promote a more helpful dialog about how to improve education in America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be revealing and hopeful in its discussion of the need for children to develop character first and then skills second - the real education for children comes often when no one is watching or thinking about their education. They need to fail sometimes and learn how to develop "grit" self control, curiosity conscientiousness and confidence in themsleves. Habits developed in the first few years of life prepare a person for the rest of their life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book that is making me re-think the important parts of teaching... Why is it important to read The Great Gatsby? Is it because it's a "classic"? Or is it because it teaches character? And the process of reading it teaches character? Good book filled with data.
jonpeske More than 1 year ago
This book will be of interest to parents, educators, business people, and those involved in public policy because it looks at a question that lies at the root of many of the issues we argue about in the public sphere: What is it that makes children grow up to be successful people? What does it take to succeed in school, in college, and in life? And is it something that those of us who interact with children can influence? Paul Tough begins by arguing that the “cognitive hypothesis” is seriously misguided. This is the idea that what matters most is intelligence and information. Hence, we must try to get as much as we can into our kids brains, starting with playing Mozart in utero so that they can grow up to be “smart.” For example, this theory would imply that what matters in high school is the information you are taught. Therefore, if you can show by taking a test that you understand the information, you should be just as well off as someone who has sat through four years of classes. And yet, according to the study he cites by James Heckman, this is not the case. Though GED holders are more intelligent than high school dropouts, their life outcomes (college completion rates, income, divorce rate, etc.) were more similar to high school dropouts than high school graduates. The issue was that success requires the discipline and persistence to see a task through, even when it takes a long time and may seem boring or pointless at times. So, the point of this book is that character matters—in school, and broadly, in life. And the key character traits that matter are not what he terms “moral character:” fairness, generosity, inclusion, tolerance—the things that most school character programs emphasize; but rather “performance character:” those old fashioned concepts like hard work, conscientiousness, and persistence. Tough argues that these character traits can be taught and fostered in young people as they mature and that this would be a place where we should focus our efforts as parents, teachers, and public policy makers. He uses two key case studies to explore these concepts. One is a character building program that is a joint effort between an inner city KIPP charter school and a tony private school catering to wealthy parents. The other is a champion middle school chess program in a New York City public school. Ultimately, I didn’t think that he fully clarified exactly how this could be done on a broader scale, but he certainly tells a number of engaging stories of individual success and cites current research relating to the power of character. This book will extend the conversation on character, but leaves room for others to continue exploring these issues. It will leave you with a lot to ponder, especially if you are responsible for any children or young adults.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not an educator, just a parent and grand parent. This book made a lot of sense to me, especially in explaining why some programs may not lead to lasting success. My only quibble is that the book wasnt as replete as it could be in describing successful methods of teaching character.
rpmcestmoi More than 1 year ago
The author writes well enough and is good at synthesizing study results. He is a little less good at putting all in the context of the title. He sometimes goes on too long about one study and/or story that acts as an exemplar of a theory of development toward "success". Worthwhile for a careful reader but rather less than prescriptive as the title suggests. For what it is, good. For what it pretends to be by titling, less good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend purchasing this book.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Suburban parents need to read this. Inspires to want to teach challenged kids .
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SandytheSailor More than 1 year ago
The book was OK; not thrilled. I am an educator so most of the info was familiar to me. My only complaint, was not enough said about children in elementary school.
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Thought I would learn a few things on how to make my kids better, but the book is all about how low income children don't excel due their status. I had to quit reading after the second to last chapter,, the chess chapter. Nothing in this book taught me anything to make my kids better. If I was a teacher in a low income situation, and I had no clue what I was doing I would recommend this book. However, as a parent trying to find a leg up, I would not recommend. This book will be in my next garage sale.
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bloozfleur More than 1 year ago
I thought this was excellent. I also bought a copy for my daughter's teacher as a gift and wish I could buy copies for every teacher at my daughters school.
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Allroy More than 1 year ago
Good read that focuses on building character in schools. The deflating part for me is how feasible it is. There are some superb examples in this book of teachers who go way above and beyond in their profession. I just don't expect Joe Public to jump on in and volunteer with tutoring, after school services, and providing the mentorship that is so well described in this book.
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