By Emily Huizenga
Journalist Paul Tough visited Snell Library November 8th to discuss his latest book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.
Emily Mann of the Human Services department gave Tough a brief introduction, describing his book as “one with humor and substance, one that questions conventions.”
Tough began his discussion of How Children Succeed with the suggestion that parents and educators have been emphasizing “the wrong skills and activities in the cognitive development of kids.” He described his travels around the country when writing the book: talking to researchers, educators, and students at both private academies and inner-city schools, studying everything from chess players to lab rats.
Ultimately, he concluded that “character education,” not just test scores, may be key to children’s success. He laughed, admitting that when he wasn’t doing research for his book he couldn’t help but think of his own son, then just an infant, as “a little experiment subject.”
Tough emphasized one discovery that he said even he found surprising. He said, “If we want children to succeed, we must first let them fail.” He explained the stress-response system, which children develop at infancy. While “too much damage can last a lifetime,” some conflict and stress is necessary so kids can develop what researchers are now calling “grit.”
Tough likened the idea to the difference between exercising on a treadmill and exercising by climbing a mountain: both will get you in shape, but only one has the added stress of the possibility of failure. This, he said, is key to fostering seven character strengths some educators are now deeming important to success: optimism, zest, curiosity, social intelligence, gratitude, self-control, and grit.
“What we have in this country is an adversity gap,” Tough said, explaining some kids need more chances to fail, more “inner strength,” while others need more nurturing, more care. In both cases, Tough said, the common denominator is the caregiver.
Read more in the e-book of How Children Succeed in the library’s collection here.
We would like to thank Human Services for bringing Paul Tough to campus, and a huge thank you to Paul Tough for such an engaging author talk!