Rick's Reviews > How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
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I was planning to rate this book 4 1/2 or 5 stars until reading the last chapter. The meat of the book is great in that it identifies some great markers of success for children. I was anxious to try some ideas spawned from the book, such as attempting to limit my child's exposure to negative stressors, and encouraging them to learn how to deal with failures. Then, suddenly, after only 2 previous quick jabs at conservative thinking, the author vomits throughout the last chapter this contradictory notion that the solution involved throwing more Federal money (ie, tax dollars) at the problem. What!? He spent so much of the book saying the problem begins at home, then attempts to solve it by expanding Federal government. It made me feel sick to my stomach that our political environment has gotten so bad that it basically doesn't matter what the facts are these days, some people will, like lemmings, stick to their party ideologies moreso than their own observations of reality. Trash the last chapter and I give it 4 1/2 stars.
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Reading Progress

November 20, 2012 – Started Reading
November 20, 2012 – Shelved
November 20, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Jacob The final chapter does not contradict the points Tough was making throughout the book. His emphasis was on the importance of a child’s home environment since this has been the part of the equation that has been most often ignored. However he never discounted the role that schools play in a student’s education. That would have been asinine. Tough’s argument was that we continuously attempt to fix the situation in the school room while ignoring the issues happening at home. The federal government’s historical response to correcting the nation’s educational problems has been to spend more taxpayer money. Near the end of the book, Tough remarks that more funding does not necessarily equate to a better educational system. Hence why he proposes specific changes that he thinks will be more productive and cost effective instead of just throwing money at the problem. I am not arguing whether these results would actually come to fruition but highlighting that the words you are using to describe his proposals are inaccurate. I can understand your frustration with the comments he made about the conservative view on character. Even though his political leanings were apparent long before the end of the book, this did distract from the credibility of his arguments. Similarly, accusations such as yours that he ignored facts in favor of a political ideology have the same effect.


Rick He did contradict himself in that he did not offer a solution as to how the government could be a workable resolution. This book was about where the success stories stem from, and he spent little to no time portraying the existing government solutions as workable. If he wanted to propose that, he should have addressed that in the book, not in the conclusion, with absolutely no supporting evidence to back it up. A fair interpretation of his studies would have forced the last chapter to insist on more family-based solutions. If he meant to produce another case, a case for government nurture, then he failed miserably.

I think this disagreement of ours is a case where if your world-view is one where government (taxpayer) dollars are a reasonable solution to problems, you will miss the biased contradiction and generally excuse the author, but if your world-view demands proof and questions that solution, you will do the same of the author's last chapter.


message 3: by Jacob (last edited Jan 09, 2013 10:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jacob Although he did try to touch on multiple groups of varying socio-economic statuses, the prevailing focus throughout the book was on the underperforming children from poor neighborhoods. Tough argues that the characteristics generally more prevalent among the poor (single parent household, substance abuse, lack of full-time employment, physical abuse, etc) have psychological effects on children that in turn negatively affect their performance in school. These issues are exacerbated by the fact that the schools found in these areas are ineffective at dealing with these external problems and do not offer their students a quality education. These programs he is describing, from the medical care where these tests took place to even the classes that the children are taking, are obviously too expensive for their parents to afford. Without some type of type of external funding, these programs would not exist. At the end of the book, he concedes that there will be disagreement on where this funding should come from:

“We can argue about whether those interventions should be provided by the government or nonprofit organizations or religious institutions or a combination of the three.”

The position that taxpayer money should not be used since it is being taken involuntarily is a worthy discussion but outside the scope of this book. Regardless, whether these programs are funded privately or publically neither strengthens nor weakens Tough’s case. His general argument was that schools, parents, and government officials are focusing on the wrong problems. The changes he described were comprehensive, covering both home and school environments. Throughout the book, when he lambasts the government it is over the types programs they are spending their money on not the fact that they are involved. He never takes the stance that since the government is not doing something wrong that they should then have no further place in it. His final thoughts are continuation of his earlier arguments that a child’s education comes from all facets of society. He argues not for additional public funding but for a change in what money is spent on. His belief that these changes will lead to a cost savings is illustrated in these two statements from late in the book:

“But we could design an entirely different system for children who are dealing with deep and pervasive adversity at home. It might start at a comprehensive pediatric wellness center, like the one that Nadine Burke Harris is now working to construct in Bayview−Hunters Point, with trauma-focused care and social-service support woven into every medical visit. It might continue with parenting interventions that increase the chance of secure attachment, like Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up, or ABC, the program developed at the University of Delaware. In prekindergarten, it might involve a program like Tools of the Mind that promotes executive-function skills and self-regulation in young children. We’d want to make sure these students were in good schools, of course, not ones that track them into remedial classes but ones that challenge them to do high-level work. And whatever academic help they were getting in the classroom would need to be supplemented by social and psychological and character-building interventions outside the classroom, like the ones Elizabeth Dozier has brought to Fenger or the ones that a group called Turnaround for Children provides in several low-income schools in New York City and Washington, D.C. In high school, these students would benefit from some combination of what both OneGoal and KIPP Through College provide—a program that directs them toward higher education and tries to prepare them for college not only academically but also emotionally and psychologically.
A coordinated system like that, targeted at the 10 to 15 percent of students at the highest risk of failure, would be expensive, there’s no doubt. But it would almost certainly be cheaper than the ad hoc system we have in place now. It would save not only lives but money, and not just in the long run, but right away.”

“When advocates for a new way of thinking about children and disadvantage make their case, they often base it in economics: as a nation, we should change our approach to child development because it will save us money and improve the economy. Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard, has argued persuasively that an effective program of support for parents of low-income children while their kids are young would be much less expensive and more effective than our current approach of paying later on for remedial education and job training. James Heckman has taken the math a step further, calculating that the Perry Preschool produced between seven and twelve dollars of tangible benefit to the American economy for every dollar that was invested in it.”

In addition to this, when analyzing Tough’s arguments, questioning and demanding sufficient proof should not be limited solely to instances where tax payer money is involved. This is a part of critical thinking not a world view. Flaws in his proposed solutions were pervasive throughout the book, not confined to the last chapter. Tough does an outstanding job disputing the merits of our current educational system which perceives the school as operating in a vacuum. He also presents a solid case for the introduction of character based learning. Where he falls short is offering practical examples of how we reach the goal of a better education for all children. The success stories he tells are in their infancy and/or limited in scope. Even if they may be steps in the right direction, it would still be ill-advised at this point to consider them as viable solutions for national deployment.

The disagreement we are having about this book is not over different views on the outcome of Tough’s advice in the final chapter but rather whether it was consistent with the rest of the book.


Rick Well I've said my peace. The reader can decide if he's pushing an agenda through his world-view at the end as I suggest, or not, as you suggest.


Michelle I enjoyed this dialogue! I love differing opinions backed by fact! I'm halfway through the book and look forward to furthering this dialogue with my own opinions/facts.


Rick Michelle, when you do, it would be interesting to inform us if you personally are liberal or conservative when it comes to government solutions.


message 7: by Jacob (last edited Jan 13, 2013 03:25AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jacob Rick, you might want to check out Learned Optimism by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman. Tough had mentioned it in his book and it discusses some of the same ideas that you have expressed an interest in. The basic premise is that a person’s explanatory style has a significant effect on their success and well-being. The optimism he describes is not the positive thinking “tomorrow is a new day” mantra found in self-help books, but an analysis of the author’s psychological trials at various institutes over the past decades. At the end he provides instructions on how the reader can change their, or their children’s, mental disposition to be more optimistic. Seligman does not touch on any “world view” so there should not be an issue with confirmation bias effecting the perceived validity of his work.


Rick Interesting Jacob. I'll check it out. Thank you.


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