Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed, received all sorts of press from the New York Times to Time magazine and plenty of bloggers in between, almost before it was released on September 4, 2012. What initially drew me to teaching was a perception that building character in children had been overlooked as reformers explored instructional and curricular angles in earnest, so it was obvious that this title would lure me. If you’ve ever read Jonathan Kozol’s work, Tough brings a similar ethnographic, journalistic, and humane, middle-class re-awakening to challenges we do not all share. The difference is in how Paul Tough ties together the qualities we humans do all share that drive us to the definition of success created by mainstream middle-class America.
Reading this book is like being at a cocktail party where 40 years of research in education reform, positive psychology, economics, and sociology, are condensed into their immediate connections with one another. Tough weaves together the influence different researchers have had upon one another, how they’ve stumbled into each other’s work, and how the very different fields are distinctly related to the human psyche for success. The conversation at this party surrounds a handful of special guests who are the children of seemingly hopeless context, thriving due to dispositions and developed executive function that all of the researchers have explored in unique, sometimes inadvertent ways. Also present at this party are fervent educators, community activists, and physicians discussing different models of support they have used for both low and high socioeconomic populations, creating an interesting juxtaposition of how the same character traits are built and manifest differently in varying contexts.
This book was especially salient to my context because it brought in a completely new sphere of research that complements and supports another title I’ve been reading (and actually paused to read Tough’s book), Creating the Opportunity to Learn, (Boykin & Noguera). Central to both books is the idea that educators, no matter why they pursue raising achievement, must prioritize methods of raising self-efficacy and conscientiousness in the young humans we serve. How Children Succeed points out that the age group I work with most often, upper elementary, are most ripe for developing from pessimistic to optimistic dispositions because they are not yet distracted by puberty, but have the metacognitive malleability to embody the traits of self-efficacy and self-regulation.
In reflection, my two previous paragraphs were harder to read than Paul Tough’s eloquently braided prose. The layout flows naturally, bridging seemingly different subheadings into coherence. Without much editing this book could become a great documentary film. If you enjoy being around great thinkers and someone who facilitates a connected discussion that is truly important to the success of people, grab a copy of this book and join the party. I give this one 4 of 5 Sutterstars.