The results are in:
It’s not about how much information we can stuff
into children's brains in the first few years,
and it’s not about how highly they score on tests,
from preschool admissions to SATs.
Julie Ann's ConsciousSHIFT guest Paul Tough, author of HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, 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 takes on what he calls the “cognitive hypothesis,” the idea that success hinges on mental processing speed and traditional brainpower. Instead, citing lots of interesting research, Tough shows that “non-cognitive skills ... perseverance, optimism, self-control, and so on – are actually what matter most.
More than that, the ability to adapt to change - and bounce back from failure - are the capacities that create the character essential for success.
“Psychologists and neuroscientists have learned a lot in the past few decades about where these skills come from and how they are developed,” Paul writes.
What they’ve discovered can be summed up in a sentence:
Character is created
by encountering and overcoming failure.
Paul explains why American children from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum are missing out on these essential experiences. Perhaps surprisingly, the children of affluent parents are insulated from adversity, beginning with their baby-proofed nurseries and continuing well into their parentally financed young adulthoods. And while poor children face no end of challenges — from inadequate nutrition and medical care to dysfunctional schools and neighborhoods — there is often little support to help them turn these obstacles into character-enhancing triumphs.
Paul visited schools, pediatric clinics, neuroscience rat labs, and elite chess tournaments, and he discovered that both inside the classroom and outside, character makes a big difference to a child’s success.
“Character is molded by the environment in which we grow up,” Paul says. “It can be taught not just by parents but by schools, coaches, and mentors as well. Which means we all have a responsibility to help kids develop their character – as well as their math skills.”
Paul Tough is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine,and he has written extensively about education, child development, and poverty. His journalism has also appeared in The New Yorker,GQ, and on the public-radio program This American Life.
Join Julie Ann and Paul as they explore how character determines success for all of us - young and old.
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