Pittsburgh Friends Meeting Library

“A Leading to Read”
A regular column by the Library Committee reviewing books in the Meetinghouse Library
In recent years, we have seen that economically disadvantaged children are also disadvantaged academically. Recent efforts to remedy this problem have placed too much emphasis on testing and academic development and not enough on character qualities that can lead to success in education and life. How Children Succeed is an attempt to draw our attention to the importance of character in education.
Intervention should begin in the early years by increasing the children’s “executive function,” which includes flexibility, time management, planning and organizing, giving attention to details, and considering alternatives. Coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe, executive function is one of the best predictors of a successful life. Trauma, abuse, neglect, and dysfunction in the early years can harm the brain’s ability to develop executive function, negatively affecting children’s performance in school.
On the other hand, if mothers develop a warm affective bond with their children, making them feel secure, they can reverse the effects of extreme stress and trauma and improve the children’s executive function and their chances of success. Even the most troubled parents can be helped to improve their level of secure attachment.
(Chapter 1) Tough reviews research which shows that character is a better predictor of success than IQ. While IQ is resistant to change after age eight, character is malleable. Researchers have come up with seven character strengths that can most likely predict satisfaction and success in life. They are grit (or ability to stay with a task), self‐control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. Students can learn and develop these characteristics, and students from low‐income families can be helped to achieve better personal and academic futures through behavior modification.
(Chapter 2) In a Title I middle school in Brooklyn, where 60% of students are from low‐income families, one chess expert helps students develop life‐altering habits through teaching them to play chess. They learn two critical executive functions: cognitive flexibility (being able to see alternative solutions to problems) and cognitive self‐control (being able to replace an instinctive response with a well‐thought‐out one). The students receive tough love by being required to review their mistakes, take responsibility for their mistakes, and learn from them. They are then encouraged to move on. As a result, the students develop self‐confidence and the belief that they can succeed. And succeed they do: this school consistently has the most successful chess team in the nation in its grade group.
(Chapter 3) Today the percentage of rich students completing college education is increasing while the rate of low‐income graduates is decreasing. This is not because of academic unpreparedness but because disadvantaged students lack study skills, work habits, time management, and the ability to seek help. One experiment (OneGoal) in Chicago showed that the trend can be reversed by teaching students these noncognitive skills.
(Chapter 4) It is a fact that disadvantaged children perform well below the level of advantaged students. There are too many factors involved to understand this problem fully and to alleviate it effectively. However, by reviewing many examples and case studies, Tough shows that these children can break the cycle of failure if certain interventions such as those discussed in this summary are implemented.
Note: You can find an extensive summary of this book at a site that provides free summaries of current books plus multi‐media not included in the original book. Here is the site: http://newbooksinbrief.com/2012/09/17/20‐a‐summary‐of‐howchildren‐succeed‐grit‐curiosity‐and‐the‐hidden‐power‐ofcharacter‐by‐paul‐tough/.
The holdings in our Meeting library can be checked from your computer at home at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/PittsburghFriendsMtg

Eric Starbuck


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