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The Power of Character: Education Speaker Paul Tough on <em>This American Life</em>
Education | October 19, 2012

The Power of Character: Education Speaker Paul Tough on This American Life

Children are our future—and thanks to the work of education speaker Paul Tough, and his unique perspective on how to help more children succeed, that future is beginning to look a little brighter. Tough recently appeared on NPR's This American Life to discuss the theories presented in his bestselling book How Children Succeed. Test results and natural intelligence aren't the only, nor even the most important, indicators of a child's academic—and longterm—success. "Leadership principles [such as] ambition, professionalism, resourcefulness, [and] resilience," are just as valuable, if not more so, than cognitive skills in education, says Tough. "Really, what makes a huge difference for these kids is learning these psychological skills," he says. "And when they get to college, that's what's going to make a difference."

These personal skills—which Tough refers to as "character"—are particularly underdeveloped in children who come from unstable, broken, or abusive households. What is encouraging, however, is that students with severely troubled upbringings can learn, and even master, these important skills with the right amount of positive reinforcement and teaching. "Secure attachment," he says, whether coming from a parent, a teacher, or even a role model, can help keep children on the right track. Providing support and establishing a deep interpersonal bond can have a tremendous impact on a child's learning potential—as "character" needs to be learned and developed, just like reading, writing and math. His intensive research explores the link between nature and nurture and the connection between neurological development and childhood environment. Tough's speeches provide a fresh perspective on how to best educate our most troubled youth, and challenges long-held beliefs that are entrenched in our current education system.
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