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Sooooo — how did you like the intro and first chapter to How Children Succeed? Is it what you expected? I had read the original NYT Magazine piece this book was based on, titled “What If The Secret to Success Is Failure?”, so I kind of knew where Tough was headed. He writes early on that we are a culture fully immersed in the “cognitive hypothesis” - or, “the belief, rarely expressed aloud but commonly held nonetheless, that success today depends primarily on cognitive skills – the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, the detect patterns – and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.” Yet he then unravels the hypothesis, backed up by lots of research that suggests the opposite: it’s character traits like grit, perseverance, persistance, and curiosity that are better predictors of future success.
Why don’t more kids develop these character traits that put them on the road to success? Two large factors are poverty and stress – or, really, how our bodies react to deeply stressful situations, which many kids face every day. Particularly upsetting to me is the research on what early stress and poverty does to a child’s brain – as Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist at Rockefeller University, tells Tough, “the process of managing stress, which he labeled allostasis, is what creates wear and tear on the body. If the body’s stress-management systems are overworked, they eventually break down under the strain.”
Yet even though research shows that the effects of early stress can last a lifetime, there is also hope. Tough writes in Chapter One: “But there is also some positive news in this research. It turns out that there is a particularly effective antidote to the ill effects of early stress, and it comes not from pharmaceutical companies or early-childhood educators but from parents. Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment.” He reiterates,”The effect of good parenting is not just emotional or psychological, the neuroscientists say; it is biochemical.”
The Book Club will re-convene next Monday night, October 2, at 8:30 PM CST, to discuss Chapter Two: How to Build Character, and Chapter Three: How to Think. It’s about 60 pages, and shouldn’t be too tough to tackle in a week. Come back and join us, would love to hear your thoughts!
Tonight’s Talk: A subject that is often left out of conversations about education is the stressful, unstable lives that children live at home. As Finnish Education Minister Pasi Sahlberg recently told American educators, academic excellence wasn’t a particular priority when the Finns were redesigning their world-class education system; equality was. Yet we Americans shy away from talking about equality when it comes to children. Why? Leaving politics at the door, please, why do we so want to not face this reality: that improving the home lives of poor children has been shown to improve their chances for a lifetime of stability and success?
And, what’s more – what can WE do about it? (One of the things I choose to do about it is keep this blog – I feel that informing parents about issues like these is paramount!)