Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review: 'How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character' by Paul Tough

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Paul Tough
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Review by Joseph Ford Cotto

One of the most famous sayings is that “children are our future.” It is also among the most astute.

Paul Tough has devoted much of his career in print and broadcast journalism to the issues of education and socioeconomic opportunity. Over the last several years, however, he has focused on the pressing concerns of America’s underprivileged youth. In 2008, his book Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America captivated the nation and earned a spot on the bestseller list.

When 2012 came around, he attempted to address the central question of human aptitude in How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.

Why is it that some kids grow to become business magnates while others have difficulty holding even a menial job during midlife? Is this a matter of individual intelligence, as many would presume, or something quite different?

Defying popular sentiment, Tough chooses the latter option. He places more than a considerable degree of emphasis on building character. This, he argues, is the key to a bright future.

Rather than advocate a new batch of standardized tests to measure children’s respective abilities, he believes that instilling productive values is far more important. These are quite standard, ranging from prudence to positive thinking. Unfortunately, their importance is communicated all too infrequently.

One of the most interesting things that Tough mentions is the link between stress in childhood and achievement down the line. He also writes about the impact which adversity can have on brain development. Understanding such things is essential for breaking the chain of generational poverty.

Tough goes on to discuss a good deal more in How Children Succeed. I found it to be a very engaging and informative read, and would most definitely recommend it to others. The book’s relevance extends far beyond audiences of parents and teachers. Tough has combined psychology with both sociology and economics to deliver a comprehensive report on constructing success from the ground up.

Of course, I do not agree with all his conclusions. On the intelligence issue specifically, my views differ more than a fair bit.

Nonetheless, any social or financial observer, as well as those who are compelled by human interest stories, would be wise to hear what Tough has to say.

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