I’ve just finished How Children Succeed by Paul Tough. This has been on my reading list for a while now, and I finally got around to reading it. It’s actually a quick read despite covering a lot of research on learning and success. Tough covers a lot of the research having to do with ideas like grit, the growth mindset, persistence, etc. The bottom line of the book is that interventions need to address the so-called “soft” skills to create success in students, not just in high school, but beyond. I also listened to the NPR show “3 Miles” not too long ago and the message there is basically the same. It’s not kids’ intelligence or lack thereof that keeps them from succeeding, but their inability to stick with something when it gets hard, not understanding that you can and should ask for help, a lack of time management and organizational skills, a lack of understanding of social mores in different settings.
I liked that the book looked not just at underperforming public schools, but also a couple of private schools where kids are highly successful, at least in terms of getting into college and the traditional sense of that idea. However, many of those students end up lost when they get to college or get out of college (for more on this, read Excellent Sheep). These kids were less likely to be creative and innovative; they stuck with the safe route, even if it meant being not so happy.
This seems to be the trend in education, that what’s important is not “book learning” per se, but a certain strength of character. More importantly, the idea is not that you either have that character or you don’t, but that those traits and skills can be taught. Even though Tough showcases several success stories, he also mentions those that don’t make it, and the tiny, tiny number of those that do. Too many kids in the public school system are not getting a good education in either the traditional book learning sense or in terms of building soft skills that lead to success. And that I find utterly depressing. And it’s not like this is news to me. I think the depressing thing is that year after year, there is some solid research that shows how to address some of these problems, and year after year, we ignore that research. Because it’s hard to implement. It costs money, etc. It seems crucial to our success as a country that we fix this. Sadly, I’m not seeing any movement on this in the near future.