How Children Succeed (Book Review Pedcast)

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How Children Succeed


How Children Succeed

by Paul Tough

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

I hope you are having a good day. I am your host, Dr. Paul Smolen also known as Doc Smo. Thank you for joining me today for another installment of, the pediatric blog where we talk about everything kid, from diapers to the diploma, from the bassinette to the board room, from the swaddle to the sware, we talk about it here. With the help of one of my superb intern, Angela Solis, today we are going to continue with my book review series.

A friend of mine from college recently sent me a book he thought might interest me. He knows me well. I was immediately intrigued by the title: How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough, a journalist with expertise in education and poverty. After reading the first chapter where he introduced me to the recent research about how crucial early brain development is in children under 2 years of age is, I decided that parents who follow the blog should hear about this research. The author introduced me to the concept of the ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) score which is a way psychologists measure the amount of “stress”, both physical and psychological that a child endures in their early childhood.  Mr. Tough admits that measuring a child’s ACE score is not easily obtained but, does seem to measure something important. According to Mr. Tough’s many experts believe that the higher the ACE score a child has in the first 3 years of life, the poorer his or her educational outcome is likely to be. He claims further that research supports the concept that this “toxic stress” a child experiences changes the way these children react to the world for the rest of their life. Experts believe that high ACE scores tends to create children with short attention spans, less curiosity and confidence to explore their world. Fascinating! These observations seem to explain a lot of what we see in children. To me it appears that factors outside the classroom seem to determine their success or failure far more than the quality of the teaching they experience.

Unfortunately, after this initial enlightening chapter, I did not find the other information and commentary as interesting. The rest of this long book explores, in great detail I might add, the following themes:

-how character traits such as determination, grit, and self regulation, and curiosity affect success
-how different school systems have tried to implement character education programs
-what mental strategies successful students have learned to implement when faced with trials
-what programs are in place currently trying to help disadvantaged children
-future paths for educational reform

As you can see from the extensive list of topics covered in this book, my hope of finding a great parenting book capable of giving parents insight into factors that might point their children in the direction of success did not materialize. Based on the jacket summary, this seems like a revolutionary book that holds the key to make your own child successful beyond the academic skills emphasized in a traditional classroom. Do not be fooled. This is not a parenting book with solutions of how to instill character traits in your child, or how to mitigate the long-term effects of painful emotional situations. This is investigative journalism in which Tough immersed himself into various educational cultures, from the south side of Chicago to the elite Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx. He scoured scholarly journals and interviewed experts in the fields of education, neuroscience, and child psychology. There is no doubt that this book is thoroughly researched and well-written for he is able to keep a narrative tone throughout the book, while stringing together study after study to validate his points. This book, therefore, is aimed at individuals specifically interested in education policy or political science majors destined to annotate it for class in the hopes of one day emerging from DC as the next Michelle Rhee. If you have the time, the book certainly opens your eyes to the current education policy trends, but be prepared for what begins as an informative piece on the influence of character strengths on children’s success to turn suddenly political within two chapters. We think this is a very informative book for educators, policy wonks, school administrators, psychologists, and anyone interested in social policy… but not for parents looking for useful parenting information. We give it two and a half out of five Doc Smo stars.

Again, I would like to thank my more than capable intern, Angela Solis, who helped in the writing of this pedcast book review. Both she and I would love to hear your comments at or on Facebook or iTunes. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, hoping your children have an overwhelming need, to go ahead and succeed. Until next time.