Information from the press kit about the new Paul Tough book

1 Sep

Moi first wrote about Paul Tough in No one is perfect: People sometimes fail:

Paul Tough has written a very thoughtful New York Times piece about the importance of failure in developing character, not characters.

In What If the Secret to Success Is Failure? Tough writes:

For the headmaster of an intensely competitive school, Randolph, who is 49, is surprisingly skeptical about many of the basic elements of a contemporary high-stakes American education. He did away with Advanced Placement classes in the high school soon after he arrived at Riverdale; he encourages his teachers to limit the homework they assign; and he says that the standardized tests that Riverdale and other private schools require for admission to kindergarten and to middle school are “a patently unfair system” because they evaluate students almost entirely by I.Q. “This push on tests,” he told me, “is missing out on some serious parts of what it means to be a successful human.”

The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is characterthose essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. “Whether it’s the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful,” he said. “Strangely, we’ve now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that….”

Whatever the dream you feel you didn’t realize, remember that was your dream, it may not be your child’s dream. Tough has written the book, HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.

Here’s is a portion of press release for Tough’s book:


CONTACT: Taryn Roeder

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



Grit, Curiosity, and the

Hidden Power of Character


Journalist Paul Tough has written acclaimed articles about character and childhood in the New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, and he chronicled the way one man is changing the lives of poor children in his first book Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canadas Quest to Change Harlem and America. This fall comes his bold missive from the frontline of innovation and change, HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 4, 2012).

Why do some children succeed while others fail? In HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED, Paul Tough shows us that it’s not about how much information we can stuff into their brains in the first few HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Pub. Date: September 4, 2012; Price: $27.00; ISBN-13: 978-0-547-56465-4

years, and it’s not about how highly they score on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs. Tough connects the dots between groundbreaking research in neuroscience, economics, and psychology to show that the qualities that matter most for success have less to do with IQ and more to do with character: skills like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, and optimism. Paul Tough’s idea-packed book features a diverse cast of characters changing the way we think about how best to steer children toward success including:

Brooklyn middle school chess teacher Elizabeth Spiegel, who routinely turns C and D students into nationally ranked chess players.

Young pediatrics star Dr. Nadine Burke Harris in San Francisco, who is uncovering the long-lasting biological effects of stress on children. Burke Harris shows that adverse childhood experiences are a risk factor not only for school failure, but also for adult diseases such as heart disease and cancer, and she’s treating children in a very different way because of these effects.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies self control and grit. She’s found that it is grit that best predicts high achievement in the National Spelling Bee, and it is grit that can demonstrate which cadets will survive the grueling West Point summer training course known at Beast Barracks.

Dominic Randolph, the head of the prestigious Riverdale Country School, who is working to develop character in his affluent, high-achieving students. As Randolph says, “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”

In HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED, Paul Tough argues for a different understanding of the idea of character. It is not an innate skill, Tough contends; it’s not something we receive because of good luck or good genes. It is molded by the environment in which we grow up. “Character can be taught not just by parents but by schools, coaches, and mentors as well,” Tough says. “Which means we all have a responsibility to help kids develop their character strengths – as well as their math skills.” Paul Tough’s indelible portraits of children trying to pull themselves back from the brink of failure suggest both the mysteries of character and the promise of brighter futures for more and more children.

HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Pub. Date: September 4, 2012; Price: $27.00; ISBN-13: 978-0-547-56465-4

As part of the press kit, there is a conversation with Tough:

A Conversation with Paul Tough

What made you want to write How Children Succeed?

In 2008, I published my first book, Whatever It Takes, about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone. I spent five years reporting that book, but when I finished it, I realized I still had a lot of questions about what really happens in childhood. How Children Succeed is an attempt to answer those questions, which for many of us are big and mysterious and central in our lives: Why do certain children succeed while other children fail? Why is it, exactly, that poor children are less likely to succeed, on average, than middle-class children? And most important, what can we all do to steer more kids toward success?

Where did you go to find the answers?

My reporting for this book took me all over the country, from a pediatric clinic in a low-income San Francisco neighborhood to a chess tournament in central Ohio to a wealthy private school in New York City. And what I found as I reported was that there is a new and groundbreaking conversation going on, out of the public eye, about childhood and success and failure. It is very different than the traditional education debate. There are economists working on this, neuroscientists, psychologists, medical doctors. They are often working independently from one another. They don’t always coordinate their efforts. But they’re beginning to find some common ground, and together they’re reaching some interesting and important conclusions.

What’s new?

Until recently, most economists and psychologists believed that the most important factor in a child’s success was his or her IQ. This notion is behind our national obsession with test scores. From preschool-admission tests to the SAT and the ACT — even when we tell ourselves as individuals that these tests don’t matter, as a culture we put great faith in them. All because we believe, on some level, that they measure what matters. But the scientists whose work I followed for How Children Succeed have identified a very different set of skills that they believe are crucial to success. They include qualities like persistence, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. Economists call these noncognitive skills. Psychologists call them personality traits. Neuroscientists sometimes use the term executive functions. The rest of us often sum them up with the word character.

Who are the big thinkers behind these ideas?

The central scholar in this movement is James Heckman, a Nobel prize–winning economist at the University of Chicago. He’s the one who did some of the first work identifying and quantifying these non-cognitive skills. And in recent years he has been working to pull together thinkers from lots of different disciplines — psychologists and economists and neuroscientists and geneticists — to get them to share ideas and find connections between their theories.

The book includes plenty of others doing important research, from Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies self-control and grit; to Michael Meaney, a neuroscientist in Montreal who found a remarkable connection between a mother rat’s licking-and-grooming habits and the future success of her offspring; to Suniya Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia University who has written about the unique stresses faced by kids who grow up in affluence.

How do these ideas play out in the lives of actual kids?

There’s a lot of science in How Children Succeed, but much of the book is taken up with stories of young people trying to improve their lives, and the teachers and counselors and doctors trying to help them, often using unorthodox methods.

Sometimes these kids are achieving great things: Take James Black Jr., a student who just graduated from Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn. He grew up in a low-income neighborhood, he has siblings who’ve spent time in prison, and he doesn’t do great on traditional tests of cognitive ability. But he might be the best thirteen-year-old chess player in the country. I followed him for a year, trying to figure out why he’s so successful.

When I started my reporting, I thought what everyone thinks: that chess is the ultimate intellectual activity, a skill inextricable from IQ. But to my surprise, I found that many chess scholars now believe that chess success has more to do with non-cognitive skills than with pure IQ. James’s chess teacher at IS 318 is a woman named Elizabeth Spiegel. She’s a great teacher, and I think what makes her so good is that she’s able to help her students develop their noncognitive skills to high levels — in James’s case, to very high levels.

A lot of your reporting for this book was in low-income neighborhoods. Overall, what did

you learn about kids growing up in poverty?

A lot of what we think we know about the effect of poverty on a child’s development is just plain wrong. It’s certainly indisputable that growing up in poverty is really hard on children. But the conventional wisdom is that the big problem for low-income kids is that they don’t get enough cognitive stimulation early on. In fact, what seems to have more of an effect is the chaotic environments that many low-income kids grow up in and the often stressful relationships they have with the adults around them. That makes a huge difference in how children’s brains develop, and scientists are now able to trace a direct route from those early negative experiences to later

problems in school, health, and behavior.

Unfortunately, though, that science isn’t yet reflected in the way we run our schools and operate our social safety net. And that’s a big part of why so many low-income kids don’t do well in school. We now know better than ever what kind of help they need to succeed in school. But very few schools are equipped to deliver that help.

Many readers were first exposed to your reporting on character through your article in the

New York Times Magazine in September 2011, which was titled “What If the Secret to

Success Is Failure?” How does failure help us succeed?

That’s an idea that I think was best expressed by Dominic Randolph, the head of the Riverdale Country School, an exclusive private school in the Bronx where they’re now doing some interesting experiments with teaching character. Here’s how he put it: “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”

That idea resonated with a lot of readers. I don’t think it’s quite true that failure itself helps us succeed. In fact, repeated failures can be quite devastating to a child’s development. What I think is important on the road to success is learning to deal with failure, to manage adversity. That’s a skill that parents can certainly help their children develop — but so can teachers and coaches and mentors and neighbors and lots of other people.

How did writing this book affect you as a parent?

My wife and I became parents for the first time just as I started reporting this book, and our son Ellington is now three. Those are crucial years in a child’s development, and I spent a lot of them reading papers on the infant brain and studies on attachment and trauma and stress hormones, trying not to get too overwhelmed.

In the end, though, this research had a surprising effect: it made me more relaxed as a parent.

When Ellington was born, I was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race — the faster a child develops skills, the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life. Having done this reporting, I’m less concerned about my son’s reading and counting ability. Don’t get me wrong, I still want him to know that stuff. But I think he’ll get there in time. What I’m more concerned about is his character — or whatever the right synonym is for character when you’re talking about a three-year-old. I want him to be able to get over disappointments, to calm himself down, to keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating, to be good at sharing, to feel loved and confident and full of a sense of belonging. Most important, I want him to be able to deal with failure.

That’s a difficult thing for parents to give their children, since we have deep in our DNA the urge to shield our kids from every kind of trouble. But what we’re finding out now is that in trying to protect our children, we may actually be harming them. By not giving them the chance to learn to manage adversity, to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity is what produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.

What Tough is talking about is emotional intelligence.

Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A. have written the excellent article, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) for HELPGUIDE.Org.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and diffuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.

If you have a high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling life.

Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:

  • Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
  • Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
  • Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

Why is emotional intelligence (EQ) so important?

As we know, it’s not the smartest people that are the most successful or the most fulfilled in life. You probably know people who are academically brilliant and yet are socially inept and unsuccessful at work or in their personal relationships. Intellectual intelligence or IQ isn’t enough on its own to be successful in life. IQ can help you get into college but it’s EQ that will help you manage the stress and emotions of sitting your final exams.

Emotional intelligence affects:

  • Your performance at work. Emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in your career. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.
  • Your physical health. If you’re unable to manage your stress levels, it can lead to serious health problems. Uncontrolled stress can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to relieve stress.
  • Your mental health. Uncontrolled stress can also impact your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you are unable to understand and manage your emotions, you’ll also be open to mood swings, while an inability to form strong relationships can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
  • Your relationships. By understanding your emotions and how to control them, you’re better able to express how you feel and understand how others are feeling. This allows you to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in your personal life.

EQ explains why some people who may be brilliant are not as successful as those with fewer IQ points. As moi says over and over in the blog:

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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