How Children SucceedBy Sarah Powley, Education Coach
“How are you doing?” I asked, interrupting her study. “It’s so good to see you!”
She lifted her head, brushed back her hair. “Mrs. Powley!” Then she smiled and answered the question. “I’m fine—but kind of stressed now, to be honest. My classes…” Her voice trailed off.
“What are you taking?”
“Pre-cal. College Comp. Chemistry. Government. You know.”
Yes, I do know. Kids are sometimes surprised that senior year is stressful. So many of them confuse arriving at senior year with finishing senior year and have the mistaken notion that the last year of high school will be a slide. A lot of them give up when the pressure becomes intense.
But not her.
“I thought you were going to have early dismissal this year,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“I do. But I only work three afternoons a week—40 hours, but only 3 afternoons.”
“I work all day Saturday and Sunday.” Her parents own one of the small Hispanic grocery stores in the area. I got the sense—last year when she was in my American lit class and from this conversation in October—that her family is working hard to make a go of it. “If I go home,” she continued, “I get distracted. If I stay here, I get my work done. I’ve got to.”
She wants to go to college.
I’ve just finished reading, for the second time, Paul Tough’s riveting new book, How Children Succeed. It confirms everything I’ve known for years—from experience and by instinct—about why some kids are successful and why some aren’t. It isn’t about IQ; it isn’t about money and family resources. It’s about character.
It’s about having the discipline to make yourself study when you’d rather be playing video games or texting or driving around town with your friends on a fine spring night. It’s about persistence—about seeing a teacher after school to get something explained, about giving up a lunch period to visit the math lab, or revising that paper when the assignment to do so is optional. It’s about memorizing the formulas and going over the study notes. It’s about setting a goal and moving toward it, step by step by step.
Most of Tough’s book is focused on the children of poverty. He summarizes a number of studies conducted by psychologists, neuroscientists, and even an economist that point to character strengths such as determination, resilience, conscientiousness, self-control, and what Tough calls “grit” as being the reasons some kids, against all odds, succeed. But where does it comes from, this thing we call “character”?
To begin with, children who are nurtured when they are young are more likely to develop these