Paul Tough’s 2012 book How Children Succeed helped popularize the notion that non-cognitive skills like resilience, perseverance, and conscientiousness could be as important to student success as performance on math and reading exams. Tough viewed character strengths as a tool that low-income and minority children can use to overcome enormous adversity.
His sequel, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, expands on these ideas by asking: “Now that we know this, what do we do?” The book’s central tenet is that educators must compensate for the shortcomings in a student’s home environment in order to foster his character strengths. Tough argues that character can’t be taught in the same way as math: “There’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control.” Rather, such qualities are presented as psychological attributes that are products of a child’s home, daycare, and school.
Tough draws on new research from the fields of neuroscience, education, early childhood development, and psychology to highlight the effects of “toxic stress” caused by unstable home and family settings. These problems manifest in school through cycles of anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior.
The book’s strength is its effective and succinct depiction of what...