Friday, August 1, 2014

How Children Succeed

This week I wrapped up this really worthwhile read, How Children Succeed.  I picked it up on a whim, but lucky me --- it really tapped into some things I want to understand better.  The author's general thesis is that it is character, more than cognitive skills, that will determine the likelihood of one's future success.  Using personality traits such as grit, optimism, gratitude, and tenacity social scientists can better determine who will have a more successful life --- success being defined as healthy relationships and level of internal satisfaction not just "career success".

His premise was interesting and he included a lot of data and practical examples in his work.  I think it was an excellent starting point and really peaked my interest in the concept.   Where I felt the book was lacking was that he didn't elaborate on what can be done to improve the character traits of children or how focusing on character development could improve the societies in which we live.  I wanted more....   But perhaps, I should do my own investigative journalism and use Tough's work as a starting point.  I think it's undeniable, and therefore found the book reassuring, that life goes beyond SAT scores and AP tests.  We are foolish to believe that cognitive skills without appropriate personality strengths will bring us towards the future we want.

An excerpt from the author:
In the end, though, this research had a surprising effect: it made me more relaxed as a parent. When Ellington was born, I was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race--the faster a child develops skills, the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life. Having done this reporting, I’m less concerned about my son’s reading and counting ability. Don’t get me wrong, I still want him to know that stuff. But I think he’ll get there in time. What I’m more concerned about is his character--or whatever the right synonym is for character when you’re talking about a three-year-old. I want him to be able to get over disappointments, to calm himself down, to keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating, to be good at sharing, to feel loved and confident and full of a sense of belonging. Most important, I want him to be able to deal with failure.
That’s a difficult thing for parents to give their children, since we have deep in our DNA the urge to shield our kids from every kind of trouble. But what we’re finding out now is that in trying to protect our children, we may actually be harming them. By not giving them the chance to learn to manage adversity, to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success"