the wonderful world of veena.

11 February 2015

book review: how children succeed [paul tough]

I first heard about Tough's book when he appeared on a This American Life episode a few years ago, and it has been on my shortlist to read ever since. When I was hired by Zaya in early November, I took it as a sign that it was time to finally purchase and read it to see what he had to say.

I took my time with it, progressing slowly and reading in between books for fun and articles for work. It was tough going at first to find my rhythm with it, but once I set a schedule for myself, I stuck to it pretty well.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is Tough's look at how external and internal factors can affect a child's life, and how we as educators can help instill some of the values that will help them succeed in life. Ultimately there are some, such as grit, which are inherently a part of them, but we can encourage them to find and to harness those qualities.

There were a few points in the book where a lot of technical language was used, and having not been in the education arena for a year-and-a-half, it took me some time to catch up to all of it, but once I did I sailed right along. I especially loved the stories of the chess teacher in New York City and the director of OneGoal in Chicago and how their hard work, perseverance, and dedication have helped their students move along in life.

I especially related to his findings regarding how home life can impact children's learning. It's an easy assumption to make, but in India it is tough to convince parents of this. Many parents - especially in low-income areas - think that it is entirely up to the school to make their children learn and do not provide help or assistance at home. We at Zaya are currently trying to collect some data from our students to show correlations between parent engagement and student learning outcomes, but it's going to take some time to gather all of that.

But what I ultimately liked about Tough's book was that there is hope for children who come even from the toughest of circumstances, especially if they posses those three all-important qualities: grit, curiosity, and character. His profiles of students who have used all three to pull themselves out of their situations were very powerful. It reminded me a lot of Brandon Stanton [the photographer behind Humans of New York] and his campaign to send kids from Brownsville in NYC on college visits to Harvard. That is the toughest neighbourhood in the city, but even those kids have dreams of getting out. They just need people to believe in them and help them out a little.

This is not a book for everyone, but if you are interested in education or the importance of youth empowerment, I think you'll enjoy this read. And as a bonus, it is currently available on KindleUnlimited for free if you are a subscriber!

What other books would you recommend along these lines? I've already got The Smartest Kids in the World, but I am always on the lookout for more!

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