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Tuesday, 6 November 2012

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

In How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), Paul Tough challenges the generally accepted notion that academic achievement rests primarily on the types of cognitive skills measured by IQ tests. Could it be that success is, in fact, more dependent upon non-cognitive skills or character traits such as grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity? And if so, what does it mean for well-intentioned but perhaps flawed educational reform designed to lift children out of poverty by focusing on improving student performance on high-stakes math and reading tests?

I think their examples tell us two things. The first is that the environment that kids grow up in matters a tremendous amount in their outcomes. No children in this country should have to grow up with the kind of deprivation and stress and trauma that those four kids experienced in their early years. More than anything, we need to develop a better social-support system in this country for disadvantaged children and families, one that focuses on the early years but continues through adolescence.

The second is that young people can succeed even when they do grow up in very difficult circumstances. But they can't do it alone. They need help from a committed adult, whether that's a family member, a teacher, a mentor, or a coach. I think about the kind of dedicated, compassionate, focused support that Keitha got from her mentor, Lanita Reed. That was what made a difference for her.