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

by Paul Tough

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0903914,986 (3.9)23
"Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in this book the author argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. The book introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories, and the stories of the children they are trying to help, the author traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do, and do not, prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty. Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children's lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, as the author's reporting makes clear, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things. This book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, how we construct our social safety net and also to change our understanding of childhood itself"--Dust jacket.… (more)
  1. 00
    Work Hard, Be Nice by Jay Mathews (bluenotebookonline)
    bluenotebookonline: Both books feature an in-depth look at KIPP: Mathews focuses on the organization's early development and growth, while Tough focuses on KIPP's efforts to improve in later years.
  2. 00
    Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom by Daniel T. Willingham (bluenotebookonline)
    bluenotebookonline: Very readable book on cognitive science as it applies to teaching and learning. It's a nice complement to Tough's book, which focuses on the non-cognitive factors that influence a student's likelihood of success in school.
  3. 00
    Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck (bluenotebookonline)
    bluenotebookonline: Tough goes broad on a range of non-cognitive factors that influence the likelihood that students will be successful (grit, perseverance, curiosity, etc.); Dweck goes deep on one factor (having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset). Both are highly readable (though FWIW, I found Dweck repetitive and preferred Tough's book).… (more)
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» See also 23 mentions

English (37)  Dutch (1)  All languages (38)
Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
This wonderful book reads like a collection of five magazine features that focus on physicians, educators, and researchers who work with children to help them succeed in their academic endeavors, college application, chess tournament results....etc. The author writes well. (Turns out he used to work for the New York Times.) Even though the five pieces -- especially the first two -- are long, they are hard to put down because of the engaging narrative. I was shocked to learn that extremely stressful family environment leave a long-term impact on children's health and their neurosystem, to a degree that they have trouble staying focused or regulate their negative emotion effectively. I was also shocked to learn there are 4 million children who live in a household with an annual income of $11,000 or less :( And that educators, despite their special programs designed to mentor students, raise their ACT score, or help them apply for college, are having very little success with children from this income bracket. (These programs are more effective for students in the $11,000 - $43,000 income bracket.) ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
True information about what works to help children through life

Statistics, research projects, school programs, names of individuals making a difference, and discussion on how to help children succeed educationally and in life quality. What works and what doesn't and why. I wanted to know! ( )
  WiseOwlFactory | Feb 20, 2022 |
Focusing on the idea that teaching academic content is not only not enough but not as necessary as teaching non academic skills like perseverance, willing to make mistakes and learn from them, this book describes multiple innovative teaching and learning programs that focus on underperforming schools that found ways to give students pathways into college. Quite the interesting examples, with some hope for change but also rather depressing. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
The first half is very similar to Nurtureshock, which makes it a good source of information for getting up to date with the latest "common sense" advice given to new parents. The second half talks more about institutionalized education and what society can change about the system to insure better odds at success, but it's pretty tailored for how US does things.

The book is good but I would disagree with the author on how much he insists that higher education is an indicator of success. Grit, curiosity and character can be viewed as ends in themselves, not just as means to getting accepted into college or a road to getting Phds.

Overall it was an insightful read, albeit not groundbreaking unless this is the first good parenting book you encounter. ( )
  parzivalTheVirtual | Mar 22, 2020 |
I so appreciate what Paul Tough does here to talk about the physical and psychological effects of growing up in poverty and around trauma, but he consistently fails to connect those effects with a cause. He mentions the "savage inequalities" of school funding, neighborhood resources and systemic racism only in passing, which is quite hard for me to swallow in a book that claims to be entirely about what poor kids need to succeed.

There's also a lot that made me feel icky about "character" generally -- the values he lists are ones that make for a good worker, but do they make for a better community, a fuller life? I wish he'd investigated whether curricula around social justice could help kids understand the world around them in a more complete way and perhaps also empower them to make changes they want to see. Is the KIPP model of discipline and testing just replicating the extrinsic motivation he claims has so ill-served better-off kids?

When affluent kids can screw up, drop out, and still succeed, or when they ride a greased chute from $40k/yr preschool to Riverdale to McKinsey & Company, is character really what leads kids to succeed?

What really needs to change: Kids or schools? Schools or culture? Is "no excuses" asking kids to take on the weight of systemic racism and oppression? Are we allowing the elite to skip the responsibility of addressing poverty by saying kids can get themselves out?



Smaller notes:
Youngest kids did have character assessments on report cards for parents when I was a kid ("plays well with others"). Is social/emotional learning a new concept?

If it's something we can't or don't yet test for, does the argument that the "power of character" contributes more to a child's success than tests results might indicate undermine the argument for an intense testing regime, like the one many charter schools he celebrates have? Could Tough have addressed testing itself? ( )
  mirnanda | Dec 27, 2019 |
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In the summer of 2009, a couple of weeks after my son, Ellington, was born, I spent the day in a prekindergarten classroom in a small town in New Jersey.
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"Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. But in this book the author argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. The book introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories, and the stories of the children they are trying to help, the author traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do, and do not, prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty. Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children's lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, as the author's reporting makes clear, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things. This book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, how we construct our social safety net and also to change our understanding of childhood itself"--Dust jacket.

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