Summary: Helping children from difficult backgrounds succeed, is more about creating the right environments for them to be successful than it is teaching them success strategies.
My paying job is to manage data for an after school program that works in low income areas and targets low performing students at low performing school. I am always interested in the latest theories and practices that seem to be successful. But I have been working at this job for nearly 15 years. And my wife has been a teacher for even longer. I have seen trends come and go. Solutions are never fast or simple because the problems have been long in coming and are infinitely complex.
Paul Tough is a journalist, a writer for the New York Times and a contributor to This American Life. This is his second book on this theme (the first was How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character). This is a very short book, 145 pages, less than 4 hours of audio. And in that short number of pages there are still 23 chapters. Tough opens by charting out why children from difficult backgrounds have difficulty in school and life. Adversity, stress, trauma, neglect, low attachment and other adversities all impact development. Some of these can literally change DNA, but all impact development of young children, which has a very long term impact on future development.
Helping Children Succeed is more than diagnosing the problem, Tough also attempts to chart out some of the failed solutions and some of the potential viable solutions. There is no pretense that solving problems of education is easy. But because of differences of demographics, population trends and birth rates, the majority of children in schools are now poor, minority or from other difficult to educate subgroups.
Where I think Tough is right is that character issues, internal motivation and ‘grit’ is more important in the long term than base intelligence. The question is how to develop the internal, and often precognitive, skills that allow kids to do the hard work that is necessary to overcome their educational difficulties.