This piece is based on the work of journalist and author Paul Tough, ‘How Children Succeed—Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.’
There were a few thoughts that immediately popped in my mind when I read the article. The first thought was ‘how do we define success?’ I appreciated the mention of what ‘becoming successful adults’ means, according to Tough and that is ‘being successful in achieving their goals.’
Great! We are on the same path here. But where our paths separate is in how to achieve their goals.
Don't expect school to teach the 7 personality traits for success, as outlined by Tough: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism and gratitude.
I argue that schooling is not conducive to promoting most, if not all of these traits. Why? Because however well-intentioned, schooling starts from a place of compulsory, obligatory education that has little to do with what really promotes these traits. I'd argue that these traits are developed in-spite of schooling. Rather, the basis of these traits stems from passion.
We must begin with what grabs us; what has us eager to stick it out--through thick or through thin--because we are deeply interested in, or committed to that thing.
You’ll continue to have a tough time nurturing curiosity, zest, grit etc without the foundation of love of whatever it is that the kid is into.
For example, if a kid hates everything that is being taught in the classroom, yes they might develop the self control to not break every pencil in the room. I ask you though, wouldn't that child’s experience of achieving self-control be so much more meaningful to her if she learned self-control by being intrinsically motivated through the pursuit of her deepest interest?
She would be facing the inevitable obstacles as they come from a place of authenticity, rather than some 'made up,' school situation, where the 'reward' is hollow.
So I will offer my 7 conditions necessary in which to develop those 7 personality traits for success:
1. The freedom to pursue what interests the child. This develops zest.
2. Time. Plenty of uninterrupted time to explore, think, create. This promotes curiosity.
3. Opportunities to fail. This develops self-control.
4. Opportunities to succeed. This nurtures optimism.
5. Including the child in the everyday world; exposing him to as much of the world as possible. This promotes gratitude.
6. Encouraging the child to contribute to the community; his opinion is valued and needed as much as the other. This nurtures social intelligence.
7. Nurturing the belief in self. Not by praise and flattery, but by supporting that child’s interest. This promotes grit.
Did you know?
Britain has produced a range of remarkably gifted multidisciplinary scientists and scholars who are sometimes described as polymaths. The group included, in recent times, Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead, J. B. S. Haldane, J. D. Bernal, and Jacob Bronowski.
Russell commented that the development of such gifted individuals required a childhood period in which there was little or no pressure for conformity, a time in which the child could develop and pursue his or her own interests no matter how unusual or bizzare. Because of the strong pressures for social conformity both by the government and by peer groups in the United States -- and even more so in the Soviet Union, Japan, and the People's Republic of China -- I think that such countries are producing proportionately fewer polymaths ....
- Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden (Ballantine, 1977)