Reviews for How Children Succeed : Rethinking Character and Intelligence

Booklist Reviews 2012 September #2
*Starred Review* Debunking the conventional wisdom of the past few decades that disadvantaged children need to develop basic reading and counting skills before entering school, Tough argues that they would be better served by learning such skills as grit, conscientiousness, curiosity, and optimism. It boils down to a debate about precognitive versus noncognitive skills of self-regulation or, simply put, character. Tough (Whatever It Takes, 2008) spent two years interviewing students, teachers, and administrators at failing public schools, alternative programs, charter schools, elite schools, and a variety of after-school programs. He also interviewed psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists and examined the latest research on character education beyond the bromides of the Left and Right to discover what actually works in teaching children skills that will aid them in school and in life, whatever the circumstances of their childhoods. Most compelling are Tough's portraits of adolescents from backgrounds rife with poverty, violence, drug-addicted parents, sexual abuse, and failing schools, who manage to gain skills that help them overcome their adversities and go on to college. Tough ultimately argues in favor of research indicating that these important skills can be learned and children's lives saved. A very hopeful look at promising new research on education. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2013 May
Tough argues that crucial components of the character ethic (e.g., grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control) can allow students, even those in depressed circumstances, to overcome their grave environmental obstacles. On one hand, his thesis is a welcome antidote to those academic psychologists who emphasize purely cognitive abilities (e.g., IQ and SAT scores). On the other hand, Tough's stance still places a heavy burden on individual students with scant resources and social capital. Tough is rather silent on concrete assistance of a communitarian nature required to build safety nets for those in poverty. Character does count, but it needs muscular societal nurture to help it thrive. Tough fails to fully acknowledge the kind of political commitment and action that would be necessary. His book is quite inspirational when it speaks of certain personal stories of accomplishment; at other times, it seems to ask too much of those who can be seen as society's guiltless victims. Summing Up: Optional. General readers; undergraduate students, all levels; professionals. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Two-year Technical Program Students; Professionals/Practitioners. J. L. DeVitis Old Dominion University Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 May #1
Turning the conventional wisdom about child development on its head, New York Times Magazine editor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, 2008) argues that non-cognitive skills (persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence) are the most critical to success in school and life. Building on reporting for his magazine, the author interviewed economists, psychologists and neuroscientists, examined their recent research and talked to students, teachers and principals to produce this fascinating overview of a new approach with "the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net." At a time when policymakers favor the belief that disadvantaged kids have insufficient cognitive training, Tough finds that a new generation of researchers are questioning the cognitive hypothesis. Foremost among them is Nobel laureate and University of Chicago economist James Heckman, who since 2008 has been convening economists and psychologists to discuss significant questions: Which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? What interventions might help children do better? Tough summarizes key research, such as the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, a project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, which revealed a stunning correlation between traumatic childhood events and negative adult outcomes. Others have shown that the effects of childhood stress can be buffered by close, nurturing relationships. Assessing such evidence, Heckman says policymakers intent on closing the achievement gap between affluent and poor children must go beyond classroom interventions and supplement the parenting resources of disadvantaged Americans. Families, he says, "are the main drivers of children's success in school." Heckman's thinking informs the book, which includes many examples of failing disadvantaged students who turned things around by acquiring character skills that substituted for the social safety net enjoyed by affluent students. Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential reading for anyone who cares about childhood in America. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 April #2

Listen up, pushy parents; intelligence is not necessarily the attribute children need to develop most. Psychologists are now refocusing on qualities like perseverance, optimism, and curiosity. The basis of a New York Times magazine cover story; expect demand.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 July #1

This American Life contributor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America) tackles new theories on childhood education with a compelling style that weaves in personal details about his own child and childhood. Personal narratives of administrators, teachers, students, single mothers, and scientists lend support to the extensive scientific studies Tough uses to discuss a new, character-based learning approach. While traditional education relies heavily on memorization, new research conducted by James Heckman suggests that the conventional wisdom represented by those third-grade multiplication tables has failed some of our most vulnerable students. Tough takes the reader through experiments that studied childhood nurture, or attachment theory, to report cards that featured character strength assessments (measuring "grit," gratitude, optimism, curiosity, self-control, zest, and social intelligence). Focused on schools in Chicago and New York, Tough explores the effects of racial and socioeconomic divides through the narratives of survivors of an outdated system. The ultimate lesson of Tough's quest to explain a new wave of educational theories is that character strengths make up perhaps the single most compelling element of a child's education, and these traits are rooted deep within the chemistry of the brain. Tough believes that it is society's responsibility to provide those transformative experiences that will create its most productive future members. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Sept.)

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