How Children Succeed

I just finished reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough and can’t recommend it enough. Tough delves into the world of visionary educators who are getting results, how class and economic status influence a child’s chance of success, and how our current education system is largely failing us.

The title is slightly misleading, because what Tough uncovers is applicable to anyone. Education is a pretty perfect proxy for looking at success overall, since school is the one time in our lives when success is fairly standardized, quantifiable through test scores and GPA. Self-control and character—abbreviated by the personal attributes zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity—are responsible for a large part of our success.

Tough does an amazing job explaining how class and economics affects one’s chances for success, which is something that I’ve been trying to tell acquaintances for a long time. Most of the people I know who seem to doubt the impact of economic or childhood stressors have been very fortunate, and believe that growing up poor means that your house didn’t have an extra bedroom.

The lessons in How Children Succeed can be a little tricky to parse if you’re only reading excerpts, since they seem to imply that a little gumption and extra effort can be enough to close formidable gaps. Not only are they difficult lessons to learn, often ones that aren’t reinforced in the environment, but the children who have to learn them are several years behind peers who’ve grown up with such lessons.