Paul Toughs book starts out with a few great chapters challenging the conventional thoughts of why children in poverty do not complete their education. The basic premise student intelligence or teacher quality is not near as important as performance character traits, such as grit, executive function, self-control, optimism. These are traits that are easily formed in children growing up in stress free environments with plenty of parent attention and affection, but are missing is children growing up in poverty with disjointed families, drug abuse, and other forms of chronic stress.
But after these first few chapters, the book really falters. Its like the book is a collection of essays or articles on school reform, which are then tacked together loosely with this idea of character helping children succeed. And while each chapter is well researched and referenced, the cumulative result is a lot of contradictory data, and no response to the question you wish this book would answer: How do children succeed?
What do I mean by contradictory data? Well, despite the premise that teacher quality does not matter much, the book spends a lot of time praising innovative teachers or teaching programs. Despite giving research to show that ACT/SAT scores are not a good indicator of college graduation, he examines how some schools have been successful in getting their povery students into colleges by cramming them for the ACT tests. And despite showing how learning chess can teach character skills like patience, determination, etc, the book also demonstrates that skills on the chess board do not necessarily translate to skills in the classroom or in the real world. Near the end of the book, Tough even admits that all of the studies that have identified what matters most in raising test scores and graduation rates of children living in poverty is misleading, because in reality the majority of improvements found by these innovative teaching methods are found in children that are poor enough to qualify for school meal plans, but not technically living below the poverty line.
Perhaps the most upsetting point of the book was near the end when Tough (who grew up middle to upper middle class) tries to relate to the poverty students by describing the time he dropped out of Columbia his freshman year and using his tuition money to take a Kerouac-esque bicycle trip. Tough uses this story to describe how this trip helped him take risks and build character traits that were not formed in school, and how this helped him succeed. I am uncomfortable with comparing a person with the financial means and support to voluntarily quit school, knowing his family is there as a safety net, to go play hooky, and a person living in poverty subjected to various external stresses, but is able to have the self control to focus and better themselves.
In the end, the hypothesis Tough proposed early in this book is contradicted by his later chapters, and the question of how all children can succeed is never answered. Implementation of the subject matter is this book is absent besides hugging your children.
- MP3 CD
- Publisher: Tantor Media Inc; Unabridged edition (4 September 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1452658145
- ISBN-13: 978-1452658148
- Product Dimensions:: 13.5 x 1.5 x 18.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 90.7 g
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