Anyone who is interested in children’s health and education should read Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed.
The main focus of the book is on what matters most to low income, minority urban kids succeeding in college. To answer the question, Tough explores what science is learning about what matters most to a broad set of life outcomes. And what he finds is relevant to all kids. Not just poor city kids.
The book identifies two arenas that matter most to children’s long term health and well being. The first is how our bodies handle high levels of stress, particularly chronic stress as a child. Tough writes “… scientists have reached a consensus in the past decade that the key channel through which early adversity causes damage to developing bodies and brains is stress.” And most encouraging that: “It turns out that there is a particularly effective anecdote to the ill effects of early stress, and it comes not from pharmaceutical companies or early childhood educators but from parents. Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worse effects of a harsh early environment.”
The second area is the critical role character––performance character, not moral character––plays in predicting college success. And more broadly in successful life outcomes. Here Tough builds on the findings he reported on in his terrific New York Times Sunday magazine article entitled What if the secret of success is failure?. Tough presents compelling research data that the characteristics that matter most to students success in college are not cognitive/academic but rather a combination of grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity.
Tough writes about Crossing the Finish Line, a book by two former college Presidents and a researcher, that found that the “most accurate predictor of whether a student would successfully finish college was not his or her score on the ACT or SAT …. The far better predictor of college completion was a student’s high-school GPA. Tough continues: “whether or not a a student is able to graduate from a decent American college doesn’t necessarily have all that much to do with how smart he or she is. It has to do, instead, with that same list of character strengths that produce high GPAs in middle and high school.”
Tough concludes with a set of ideas on how best to overcome poverty based on what science is discovering matters most to better life outcomes. This is a book that not only needs to be read, but thought about, discussed and ultimately acted on. As Alex Kotlowitz writes in a blub about the book: “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.”