Bestselling Author of How Children Succeed
A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough is also the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, which focuses on the steps necessary to improve the lives and education of underserved children. Through the case study of the Harlem Children's Zone, Tough describes the inspiring struggle to establish a way to combat poverty that could be replicated nationwide. Tough has also contributed to This American Life and The New Yorker, where he has honed his focus upon education, poverty, parenting, and politics. The film rights for his New York Times Magazine cover story "A Speck in the Sea," about the rescue of fisherman John Aldridge, have been acquired by Harvey Weinstein for production by The Weinstein Company.Read More
The Hidden Power of Character
Our society currently places a great deal of emphasis on intelligence as the sole indicator of value in children’s education. But in this talk, Paul Tough lays it bare: we believe that success comes from those who score highest on tests, from preschool to SATs. Yet evidence indicates that our story here might be dead wrong. The work of a new generation of researchers and educators points to the fact that the qualities that have a better shot at indicating lifelong success are “non cognitive” or what we might refer to as “personality traits” such as: curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit.
Using the tools of science, Tough peels back the mysteries of character and traces the links between early childhood neurological development and environment. By showing how “nature” and “nurture” are intertwined, Tough explores how childhood stresses modify life success and the surprising ways that parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. Tough helps us understand how early adversity affects childhood emotional, social, and cognitive development in ways that will carry on throughout their entire lives, and what we can do about it.
Who Gets to Graduate? How Colleges and Universities Can Address the Student Wealth Gap
For most of the 20th century, colleges and universities in the United States were powerful instruments of social mobility and increasing equality. Each generation's population of college-educated adults was bigger and more diverse than the one before it—a phenomenon that helped create the great American middle class and produced the most powerful economy in the world. Today, the system of higher education in the United States tends to work very effectively for higher-income families, but it is no longer accomplishing its traditional mission of helping ambitious poor and working-class young people reach the middle and upper classes. In this talk, Paul Tough introduces the innovative new ideas—proposed by psychologists, sociologists, and economists—on how to address this problem, including a nationwide effort to better identify and recruit high-achieving low-income students to highly selective colleges. He dives into the creative solutions administrators and researchers are testing out—inexpensive interventions that plant positive ideas in the minds of struggling college students, helping them develop the grit and perseverance and sense of belonging they need to persist and succeed. If these researchers' preliminary results hold up, says Tough, we may be on the verge of solving one of the biggest social challenges of our generation.
Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why
It’s long been true that kids from affluent families tend to do better in school (and on standardized tests) than kids from low-income households. Despite decades of government initiatives and the tireless work of social workers, psychologists, and educators, this gap persists. It has become the central issue in American education, as over half of public school students are now classified by the federal government as ‘low-income.’
In this keynote, drawing from his new book Helping Children Succeed, Paul Tough provides a new framework for understanding the challenges of low-income children and offers some innovative solutions. It starts with the biological mechanisms that accompany adversity. Children adapt to their surroundings: Stable, loving early environments incline kids to trust and be curious. But when children grow up amidst violence or chaos—what some doctors call “toxic stress”—their stress-response systems are set to look for trouble everywhere. In school, it’s often hard for them to focus, stay calm, and trust their peers and teachers, which makes it difficult to keep up academically. They are more likely to be disciplined or punished, but less likely to receive the genuine help and understanding they need.
If we want to help children develop the character strengths like grit or self-control that Tough first explored in How Children Succeed, we first need a more thorough understanding of adversity, home life, and brain development. In a keynote that distills groundbreaking research from psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists, Tough outlines the small steps parents, educators, and civic leaders can take to meaningfully change student motivation and behavior—especially among kids from low-income backgrounds.
Martha Holden Jennings Foundation
Paul Tough facilitated our educators retreat for dozens of school superintendents, university deans, directors of education organizations and staff members from the Ohio Department of Education. He not only used a very cohesive and thoughtful PowerPoint presentation format but also posed excellent inquiry questions for table discussion. Mr. Tough referred to examples from his book, challenged the audience to think about non-cognitive traits, and cited background research at appropriate times. One participant stated, “The conversation was outstanding. It renewed my faith that the right combination of adult support, nurturing, teaching and coaching can overcome the greatest of obstacles.” The educators, who attended this retreat, gave it some of the highest ratings.
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Thank you for participating in the PBS and CPB sponsored breakfast “Our Kids, Our Communities, Our Future” at the PBS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Your presentation about How Children Succeed was funny, informative and helped to demonstrate the importance of being a champion and mentor to underserved children, and the power of public media to foster engagement. I continue to hear from station leadership and project managers who were inspired by your address and are excited to think differently about ways to engage their community. Thank you again for illuminating our thoughts with your research and anecdotes.
How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiousity & the Hidden Power of Character
Why do some children succeed while others fail? The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.
But in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most have more to do with character: skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control.
How Children Succeed introduces us to a new generation of researchers and educators who, for the first time, are using the tools of science to peel back the mysteries of character. Through their stories—and the stories of the children they are trying to help—Tough traces the links between childhood stress and life success. He uncovers the surprising ways in which parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. And he provides us with new insights into how to help children growing up in poverty.
Early adversity, scientists have come to understand, can not only affect the conditions of children’s lives, it can alter the physical development of their brains as well. But now educators and doctors around the country are using that knowledge to develop innovative interventions that allow children to overcome the constraints of poverty. And with the help of these new strategies, as Tough’s extraordinary reporting makes clear, children who grow up in the most painful circumstances can go on to achieve amazing things.
This provocative and profoundly hopeful book has the potential to change how we raise our children, how we run our schools, and how we construct our social safety net. It will not only inspire and engage readers, it will also change our understanding of childhood itself.
Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America
What would it take? That was the question that Geoffrey Canada found himself asking. What would it take to change the lives of poor children—not one by one, through heroic interventions and occasional miracles, but in big numbers, and in a way that could be replicated nationwide? The question led him to create the Harlem Children’s Zone, a ninety-seven-block laboratory in central Harlem where he is testing new and sometimes controversial ideas about poverty in America. His conclusion: if you want poor kids to be able to compete with their middle-class peers, you need to change everything in their lives—their schools, their neighborhoods, even the child-rearing practices of their parents.
Whatever It Takes is a tour de force of reporting, an inspired portrait not only of Geoffrey Canada but of the parents and children in Harlem who are struggling to better their lives, often against great odds. Carefully researched and deeply affecting, this is a dispatch from inside the most daring and potentially transformative social experiment of our time.
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