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

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
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Jan 17, 2013

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bookshelves: education, parenting, psychology
Read from January 17 to 20, 2013

This book makes an unbalanced argument in two ways. First, it claims that if schools could just help students develop non-cognitive skills such as grit, courage, kindness, that would have more impact on eventual success than cognitive skills. In truth it's both/and. You need knowledge AND habits of mind. Paul Tough alludes to this with a couple of stories of students who have learned to focus but don't have the background knowledge to score well on tests, yet keeps coming back to grit as the solution.

Second, from my standing as an expert in psychological type, I'm concerned about how the book describes conscientiousness, one of these key non-cognitive skills that relates to the NEO-Pi, or Five-Factor personality model scale for Conscientiousness. This model measures traits, so absence of Conscientiousness is a problem. Solution presented: teach the habits of conscientiousness to those who don't have them.

The world of psychological type, popularized through the MBTI, has a very different model. Conscientiousness is highly correlated (you can check the MBTI manual) with what we call having a preference for Judging, or coming to closure. Its psychological opposite is Perceiving, or preferring to stay open to more perceptions. Both are equally valuable ways of being.

Tough spends a few sentences admitting that one can be too Conscientious (i.e. OCD) and also that people like Steve Jobs didn't necessarily exhibit this--they are more Open in the model he refers to, what we'd call Intuition, in contrast to the down-to=earth Sensing approach to life (check my website for way better information on all of this!!)

But here's the deal: Tough is pretty much prescribing Sensing/Judging ways of succeeding. And what we know in the type world is that Intuitive/Perceiving types NEED DIFFERENT STRATEGIES. What works for J's like planning ahead and starting early HAS to take a different form for P's.

Tough admits that no school has figured out how to educate all students successfully. We won't figure it out until we acknowledge that these inborn differences have different needs for, and definitions of, success.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Thank you for this review, Jane. Have you posted it anywhere other than here on Goodreads as I think it should be widely available.


Jane Katherine, I posted it to Facebook, LinkedIn and amazon. Other ideas?


message 3: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Twitter w/a link?


message 4: by Gary (new) - added it

Gary Anderson I was thinking about reading this. In fact, I brought it home from the library today. Now I think I'll skip it. Thanks, Jane, for your insights.


message 5: by Karen (new)

Karen Johnson HI Jane,

You just saved me from reading this book! Thanks! Liked your take on the author's premises. I would add that without basic neurocognitive processes, children will not be successful learners.

Cheers,
~ Karen


message 6: by Jessica (new) - added it

Jessica listen to the This American Life podcast entitled "Back to School"which highlights Paul Tough and this book. aired on Sept 14, 2012. I feel it inspired me to read it and Ira Glass, as always, questions many things about the book - criticizing as well as connecting. I found the podcast moving and imperative to our growth as a nation. It may clear up the negative thoughts around Tough's intentions.


Melissa Bradley ryan Do not pass Tough's book up, folks. I agree with Jessica above. The TAL broadcast was powerful good and I am devouring Tough's book at present. I am not a teacher but a parent and I am finding all sortz of inspiration from his insights. The attachment discussions and experiments are incredible alone.


Janus I agree with Jessica and Melissa, and would like to add that I feel that the book very much addresses the need for actual book learning. The entire point of the book is to be "unbalanced" in one way, because the status quo is an infinite focus on the need for drumming facts into kids' heads, and then condemning them if they don't have the prerequisites to actually soak it up (or, even more interestingly, lifting those with high IQs up upon high without teaching them any noncognitive skills). I therefore feel as though this review is somewhat misleading in its criticism of the book.


Jane I'm finding this bizarre. I've reviewed over 900 books on this site and this is the only one where others have commented that my review is "wrong."

First, I gave the book a 3. That means "good" in my rating system. I rate within genre--I do not expect the same quality in James Bond that I do in Anna Karenina. There are better, more original books about this topic: Mindset, Outliers, etc. However, I even quote Tough in my newest book (my 25th, my fifth from education publishers) because he presents the case for noncognitive skills so well. He definitely supports this part of the truth about what students need to succeed.

Second, the title is misleading. Children need to be taught to think, not just to persevere. It's both grit AND cognitive skills. And, one needs knowledge AND the tools of the discipline to succeed in any academic field. Yes the NCLB testing craze has pushed practices toward more drill, but take a look at E Hirsch's review of this book--that's never what the knowledge emphasis was to be about.

Third, again, the book's prescriptions will work better for some children than for others, as my review states. My colleagues who plan not to read it are also experts in the field of psychological type and cognitive processes and understand my point.

And, this is actually a social justice issue. Even the KIPP schools (see their website), with all the support they provide their grads EVEN while they're in college, are falling short of their goals for college graduation rates. Grit isn't enough. And if we concentrate on schools teaching these character qualities, or if we only concentrate on academics, we ignore the reasons many students struggle that are beyond the control of schools. We stop delving more deeply if it's all a matter of trying harder. And that is dangerous if we truly believe that the foundation of democracy is educated voters...


message 10: by Liz (new) - rated it 3 stars

Liz I was recently handed this book by one of my librarians, who told me I needed to read it. I'm about 40 pages in, and I appreciate Jane's comments and the discussion surrounding this book. It shifted my focus for reading to what I believe is a better direction. Thanks, Jane.


Aubree Pagel What is your website? I'd like to read further on your thoughts on different strategies people need to utilize based on their type.


message 12: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Here is a link to Jane's blog: http://www.janekise.com/blog/


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