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

    by Paul Tough

    Paul Tough has worked as an editor at the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s Magazine and has reported for “This American Life”, where he has focused greatly on education, parenting, poverty, and politics. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, has been translated into 27 languages and was on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year.

    Tough introduces his report with a new way of thinking that is growing among schools regarding skills and abilities children learn throughout their development and the strategies adults can use to help encourage and teach those skills. Tough argues that teaching our children about character is just as important as teaching them academics. 

    Throughout the book, Tough introduces many economist, psychologist, and neuroscientist research on the topic of success and how our children achieve it. He overlays this research with first-hand reports from young people who have experienced the various systems in place that guide them towards where they eventually end up as adults; either successful or not as so. The main question that he wants to try to answer is which children succeed and why? What is it that those children have, despite all the odds, that still allow them to succeed? The debate lies between the cognitive hypothesis and a different set of qualities like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.

    The book is organized into five chapters: How to Fail (And How Not To), How to Build Character, How to Think, How to Succeed, and A Better Path. Chapters one and two are mostly theory and evidence collected by Tough with personal stories of people that have experienced aspects of the topics discussed first hand. Tough introduces the ACE Study, attachment theory, KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy, and character strengths in these chapters. Chapter three is a personal story of young African American middle school students excelling at chess, and is purely inspiring the reader to further understand and feel the evidence presented earlier in the book. Chapter four is the meat of the book, especially for high school counselors. In this chapter, Tough asks the question: Why are so many people dropping out of college when college degrees are now needed so badly? Tough’s research shows that the best predictor of someone finishing college is their high school grade point average because it reveals more than understanding the information but also character qualities needed to succeed.

    Overall, this book offers great inspiration to reform our education system. I found the research Tough included to be highly informative and it encouraged me to seek out more information from other authors regarding the impact character has on student success. 


    This review is courtesy of Kendall Loggins, Sonoma State University, Graduate School of Counseling, Spring 2017.

    Posted 3/28/2017


    How Children Succeed (2012) by Paul Tough

    “What matters most in a child’s development is not how much information we can stuff into her or his brain in the first few years. What matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her or him develop a very different set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence.

    1. How to Fail (and How Not To)
    • Elizabeth Dozier- “You can’t expect to solve the problems of a school without taking into account what’s happening in the community.” p. 5
    • ACE study demonstrates the correlation between childhood trauma and negative adult outcomes. p. 10
    • Early stress affects the prefrontal cortex, which is critical in self-regulatory activities of all kinds, both emotional and cognitive. Children who grow up in stressful environments generally find it harder to concentrate, sit still, recover from disappointments, and follow directions.  17
    • Nurturing relationships with parents and caregivers can foster resilience against stress. p. 37
    1. How to Build Character
    • Martin Seligman- Learned Optimism: Pessimists view negative events as permanent, personal and pervasive (the three P’). –Failed a test? It’s not because you didn’t prepare well; it’s because you’re stupid. If you get turned down for a date, there’s no point in asking someone else; you’re simply unlovable. Optimists find specific, limited, short-term explanations for bad events; therefore, they are more likely to pick themselves up and try again. p. 54
    • Character is not innate or unchangeable. It is a set of abilities and strengths that you can learn, can practice, and can teach. p. 59 – The Marshmallow experiment! 
    1. How to Think
    • “Cognitive flexibility is the ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box, to negotiate unfamiliar situations. Cognitive self-control is the ability to inhibit an instinctive or habitual response and substitute a more effective, less obvious one.” p. 114
    • What motivates middle-school student is someone taking them seriously, believing in their abilities, and challenging them to improve themselves. 121
    1. How to Succeed
    • S. rates eighth in college-enrollment rate, but second to last in college completion. p. 150
    • ACT is a good measurement of education effectiveness, but not a good measurement of intelligence. “Noncognitive skills like resilience and resourcefulness and grit are highly predictive of success in college. And they can help our students compensate for some of the inequality they have faced in the education system.” p. 168
    1. A Better Path
    • What can we as a country do to significantly improve the life chances of millions of poor children? p. 191
      • As a society, we can influence the development of children. We know what kind of interventions will help children develop strengths and skills, starting at birth and going all the way through college.  Parents are an excellent vehicle for those interventions, but they are not the only vehicle. 
     This review is courtesy of Iliana Mora, Sonoma State University, Graduate School of Counseling, Spring 2018.