self-control key to child's success
San Antonio Express-NewsCopyright 2012 San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.,
By Michelle Koidin Jaffee
Updated 4:34 p.m., Monday, October 29, 2012From the focus on standardized testing to the spread of tutoring programs in math and reading for children younger than 5, today's American society places a great deal of emphasis on a child's cognitive ability and purported ways to increase it.
But a new best-selling book, "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27), concludes that there are skills more valuable than IQ in determining a child's long-term success. The book calls into question the way we teach, coach and parent.
Through scientific-research analysis and interviews with pediatricians, economists and educators of children from the wealthiest to the poorest, author Paul Tough determines that skills such as self-control, optimism and the ability to delay gratification can make all the difference.
The San Antonio Express-News sat down with Tough last week when he came to town to speak to a crowd of about 150 at Trinity University, brought here by Trinity, the San Antonio Children's Museum and the education advocacy group Generation TX San Antonio. He also spoke to a roundtable of school superintendents.
Though not familiar with the details of the local Nov. 6 ballot initiative called Pre-K 4 SA - which would provide full-day pre-kindergarten to 22,000 children - Tough noted that for low-income children, studies show a big payoff from early childhood education.
Q: Is what you're arguing counter to the whole self-esteem building trend where every kid gets a trophy?
A: It's an alternative to that. There's this one teacher I profile in the book, a chess teacher, and she is one of the best chess teachers in the country. She teaches at this school called Intermediate School 318, a regular public school in Brooklyn, a Title I school, mostly low-income population, but they are the best middle school chess team in the country. … [Elizabeth Vicary?]
What she's doing that works is she is helping kids manage failure. That's actually a theme that runs through the book, this idea that failure is actually an important part - and learning how to deal with failure is an important part - of developing these character skills, especially for school-aged kids.
Q: What should be the role of schools and policymakers?
A: The way that accountability has happened in Texas and the country as a whole over the past 20 years - there were good reasons for it, there are some good things that have come out of it - but I think the way it has become so narrowly focused on these standardized tests, which only measure these cognitive skills, is a real problem. … Those skills are not as predictive as we thought they were of long-term success.
What we should care about in any education system is kids graduating from college. There are other outcomes we could choose, but in terms of educational outcome, that's a pretty good one. So the fact that eighth-grade test scores don't necessarily correlate with college graduation rates, especially for low-income kids, I think is a real problem.
Q: You say a child needs to have "grit," or the perseverance necessary to pursue a goal. How do I build grit in my child?
A: There's not like a "great grit workbook" that you can take home. We do know two things. … They seem somewhat contradictory. One is that in the first couple of years of life, what kids need more than anything is attachment - close, nurturing support from a parent or another caregiver. It really is good for infants to have someone come every time they cry. That actually doesn't make kids more needy and whiny, the way we used to think. It makes them more secure and independent once they get out of that infancy stage. The problem is that 5- and 10- and 15-year-olds need something very different. They actually don't need someone to come every time they cry. They need parents to pull back a little bit and let them deal with their own problems, fight their own battles, fall down and not get helped back up.
Q: Your book is not a parenting book that's saying "do this" or "do that."
A: I worry there's going to be parents who want to find "failure camps" for their kids. … When I think about character-building experiences I had as an adolescent, it was working as a dishwasher. I don't feel like we need to go out of our way, to send kids on rope courses and these kinds of managed elements of adversity. There are lots of challenges out there in life. I think mostly what we need to do is let kids experience them.