What makes a child successful today? Many believe that a child’s GPA or test scores are indicative of how successful they will be, but what if a large part of success came from one simple word: character? In Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, he explains that children’s character or non-cognitive skills are a key indicator of their future achievements. Tough believes that students who only excel academically in high school are not fully prepared for college and are not the individuals most likely to succeed in life. Instead, he believes the students that will flourish are the ones that possess the following character traits: grit, curiosity, perseverance, optimism and self-control.
Throughout Tough’s book, he writes about the need to prepare students not only for going to college but also for succeeding in college. Tough points out that the traditional “college road map” provides students with a clear pathway for getting to college but not necessarily a pathway to completing college. The traditional “college road map” has a sense of romanticism that paints the picture of an easy-going, fun college experience. This romanticism fails to show students the difficulties they may encounter during college such as balancing work and school, finding social belonging, etc. Tough proposes that a way of combating this nostalgia and preparing students to face these challenges is to build their character. Tough argues that students need to learn resourcefulness, resilience, ambition, professionalism, and integrity in order to succeed. Promoting these skills in students before they arrive at college teaches students to manage their time, study effectively, build their drive and ambition, and ultimately, leads to college persistence and success.
How Children Succeed demonstrates the importance of character-building, not just intelligence. The insights offered in this book provide a practical answer to the question of “What’s missing?” among many low-income students, but they also raise the related questions of “How do we cultivate character in our youth?” and “How do we produce ‘grit’ in students?” The degree to which we are able to help students become curious, persistent and self-regulated is the degree to which those students will find – and follow – a path to success. And the degree to which our children are successful is equal to the degree to which our communities will be successful. It is incumbent upon all of us to be developers of character among our youth.