How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

As someone possibly striving to become a teacher, I appreciated How Children Succeed. Paul Tough variegates his writing style enough to keep the book entertaining without losing track of the message he puts forth – one way he does this is by including various anecdotes. He does not just share stories about kids who have suffered in the current education system, but he reveals parts of his own journey, such as when he dropped out of Columbia University.

Tough connects these tales to psychology too, by examining several pertinent ideas like character, conscientiousness, and what it truly takes to succeed in an academic environment. It’s not enough to tell kids “okay, be a good little malleable mushroom” – other ideas must be implemented to develop children’s attitudes and personalities. He incorporates how external motivation affects intelligence, which impressed me as a Psychology nerd. One experiment I found shocking was when kids who each took a test scored differently (these aren’t the exact ranges, but let’s pretend they were “good”, “okay”, and “bad”.) When these same children who scored in the “bad” range were given M&Ms, an external motivator, they scored almost as well as the “okay” kids did. This has large implications as to how extrinsic motivation can be used in education both for good and bad, and it speaks to the shaky nature of what we perceive as intelligence.

My favorite aspect of How Children Succeed was Tough’s evaluation of privilege, failure, and how many factors can affect a child’s success. He touched upon a trend I’ve noticed: many children and teens who are raised in wealthy households and go on to attend privileged private schools and Ivy League institutions never develop a mechanism for coping with failure, and some of them do not attain any actual fulfillment in terms of transcending monetary gain. While this obviously is not representative of every member of that demographic, it does provide food for thought – how do we get these kids to learn for the love of learning? How do we allow them to experience and overcome failure when their parents are paying out of pocket for them to get A’s? Tough discusses all of these ideas and I found myself nodding along and sighing in the “finally, someone who understands” kind of way while reading his book.

Overall, I would highly recommend How Children Succeed to anyone interested in education, psychology, and children. One of the best works of nonfiction I’ve read!

*also, as an extra tidbit not connected to this review, you can check out my brief and not-so-inspiring thoughts about Hamlet here! My AP Bio exam is on Monday so I’ll be hardcore studying until then – wish me luck! Because I’ll need it. I will definitely need it.


Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

9 responses to “How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

  1. Goodluck with your exam ! 🙂

  2. Wow this sounds fantastic! Developmental Psychology is the area I’m most interested in so I will definitely have to look this up. Thanks for the tip Thomas. 🙂 Do you happen to know what the authors background is? E.g. does he work with kids or is he a psychologist sort of thing etc? Am just wondering what sort of background led to his knowledge. If not, no worries!

    • From what I remember I can recall that he’s definitely a writer for the New York Times Magazine and he’s had his work published in many other newspapers or magazines. As for his experience in psychology, I think he did most of the research for this book on his own – traveling to poor (and wealthy) areas to interact with the kids there, communicating with psychologists and professors, etc. I highly recommend it if you love Developmental Psychology and I hope you enjoy it if you check it out!

  3. This is on my To Read list! It sounds really interesting. Great review.

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