2014 Reading

Reading 2014: How Children Succeed

April 2, 2014


In How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of CharacterPaul Tough attempts to take on some of the most baffling questions that parents and educators face: why some children seem to succeed where others fail, why children in poverty are more likely to fail, and why some schools with children in poverty are able to produce highly successful children.

This book is certainly not a how to make your children succeed book, as much as it is an examination of several case studies, schools, and educational settings that compare and contrast children who succeed with those who fail. At the same time, it is invaluable resource for cross-pollinating ideas in how parents may choose to nurture and encourage their children toward success.

Tough acknowledges that success and poverty are both highly relative and complex systems, though even a book that explores these subjects will inevitably fall short in attempting to address the even greater complexities that surround (and affect) poverty and long-term childhood success.

Foundational to a child getting a good start in life is parental and adult attachment, which begins in infancy. Obviously, for children living in poverty, this is one of the first of many disadvantages that some face. As children grow, there are a number of complex situations that affect the direction the child begins to take. How Children Succeed attempts to examine those issues.

Tough takes a look at several schools and programs that have been doing a good job at helping children grow to be successful adults. These case studies are incredibly fascinating, and also inspiring. To a degree, the amount of attention given to these types of situations took me by surprise, as the title (and table of contents) did not necessarily give me the picture that this book would be more than a Nurture Shock type of study at most, and more so, I assumed it would be a book directed at intellectual, middle-class American parents wanting to give their own children the best chance at success. 

In the end, Tough concludes that success is about more than simply having “brains,” or in more specific measurements, a high Intelligence Quotient. Character, creativity, and the ability to persist will outdo raw intelligence in most life situations. And yet, these are resources not equally available to all children.

This book is about more than children succeeding, though; it is about how people succeed. These same concepts are found in many helpful books addressing similar areas of needed improvement in adults: changing habits, focusing on priorities, and persisting through difficult circumstances. I recommend this book to parents and educators; yet, I am confident that anyone wanting to gain insight into how people change and grow would also enjoy this book.

As always in these types of books, there is also potential to take the principles to an extreme or to attempt to apply them uniformly to everyone. (Don’t do it!)

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