Paul Tough‘s conclusions can be summed up very briefly:
- the biggest obstacle to academic & life success is a home & a community that create high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage stress;
- non-cognitive skills, like conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism are more important than cognitive skills for young people to succeed in life;
- character matters; as the author points out, conservatives are right about this. But character is molded by the environment and as a society we can do a lot to influence its development in children; as the author points out, liberals are right about this. “We now know a great deal about what kind of interventions will help children develop those strengths and skills, starting at birth and going all the way through college.” (p. 196).
To get to those conclusions the author takes the reader on a very interesting journey, and that is what makes the book superb. It is well written and a treasure throve of scientific insights and cutting edge research, with moving stories about students, teachers and schools that make the science alive. Mr. Tough introduces the reader to innovative interventions for children and adolescents while painting insightful portraits of the people at the forefront in the quest to develop (or at least not squander) the human capital of this nation.
I felt the author’s position was very balanced. While looking for successes in his reporting, he does not shy away from highlighting the difficulties and the unknown: e.g., he puts the early successful KIPP’s results into perspective, with the good, the bad and what can be done differently; you got a sense this topic is still a work in progress; he makes it very clear that “No one [author’s emphasis] has found a reliable way to help deeply disadvantaged children, in fact.”(p. 193).
But overall there is a sense that, in the end, we will figure it out. A sense of possibility.
For passion and for work I read a lot of books about psychology, neuroscience & leadership / personal development. I always learn a lot.
But this book is different. Not only did I learn a lot. I was also moved.
I was totally absorbed and emotionally involved in the stories of the kids the author features in his narrative.
Mr Tough says that when he spent time with these young people he felt “a sense of anger for what they’ve already missed.”
I felt the same way – and that goes to his credit. I almost feel as if I personally know little James Black or Kewauna. I did get mad on their behalf.
Mr. Tough also says he had a second reaction: “a feeling of admiration and hope when I watch young people making the difficult and often painful choice to follow a better path, to turn away from what might have seemed like their inevitable destiny.” (p. 197).
That is what I felt as well – again, to Mr. Tough’s credit.
I am already doing some volunteer work with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
But you get sucked in the local situation and your horizons get narrower.
Reading this book widened my perspective and made me fully appreciate the depth of the problem but also the promise of better days to come if we embrace a new way to tackle it.
So I made the resolution to get more involved next year.
Here is my recommendation: read the book.
You will learn a lot – about neuroscience, about parenting, about teaching and about what makes people successful.
You will meet some young people who deserve all of our respect and admiration.
Hopefully, you will be moved as well to do something, even a little tiny bit, to make a difference.
Note: this book review was originally posted on Amazon, here –> http://www.amazon.com/review/R3KZ2UCFMRH774