Teaching children character may be more important than history or math according to new book

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 1:40 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — What if it's character, rather than intelligence, that determines success? Character, molded by confronting and prevailing over failure, is just what a child needs to thrive in today's world. That's the concept author Paul Tough argues in his new book, "How Children Succeed."

Tough explains in his book that most people assume "success today depends primarily on cognitive skills — the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests, including the abilities to recognize letters and words, to calculate, to detect patterns — and that the best way to develop these skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning as early as possible.”

However, Tough argues that noncognitive skills, such as self-control, curiosity, self-confidence, conscientiousness and grit, are more vital to achieving success.

Research, Tough contends, demonstrates that noncognitive skills such as resilience, optimism, perseverance and focus, among others, are directly linked to success in school and beyond, the Washington Monthly observed. "They can be taught, practiced, learned, and improved, even into adulthood."

Dave Levin and Angela Duckworth (co-founder of KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program) and others are incorporating the development of such skills into the curricula of the KIPP charter school network, across the U.S., according to the Washington Monthly. The schools are adding character report cards to their traditional academic report cards, grading students on gratitude, self-control, optimism, curiosity, zest, grit and social intelligence.

Tough illuminates "the extremes of American childhood: for rich kids, a safety net drawn so tight it’s a harness; for poor kids, almost nothing to break their fall," the New York Times observed.

Tough explains that American children born into affluent homes lack a connection to their parents and are kept from experiences of failure, "beginning with their baby-proofed nurseries and continuing well into their parentally financed young adulthoods," the New York Times noted.

Poor children face a separate challenge: that of deprived support and inadequate medical care and nutrition, Tough explained in his book.

"Fewer and fewer young people are getting the proper character-building combination of support and autonomy," the New York Times noted. "This is a worrying predicament — for who will have the conscientiousness, the persistence and the grit to change it?"

Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at rachel.lowry@gmail.com or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.

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