A new study's findings about character, IQ, learning by doing and succeeding by failing make a whole lot of sense to me.
In fact, it's nice to see the experiential point of view validated empirically, since it's one I've held for a very long time now.
It's the failing forward or 'getting control by letting go' powerful formula for achieving success and helping others along the way as well. Membership in the "tryers" club is strictly voluntary but extremely rewarding.
What matters most in determining individual success is an individual's perseverance and character. In that regard, emotional intelligence is much more important than a person's IQ in assessing future potential.
Words and phrases like curiosity, character, true grit, hard work, sustained effort, stick-to-it-iveness, time on task, the habit of improvement, conscientiousness, success through failure, overcoming adversity, self confidence, and so forth come to mind. Without a healthy amount of these traits, all the brains in the world won't matter much. At least that's long been my view and now it's the view embraced by a new book, too.
Opting Out of the 'Rug Rat' Race is subtitled 'For success in the long run, brain power helps, but what our kids really need to learn is grit:
"We are living through a particularly anxious moment in the history of
American parenting. In the nation's big cities these days, the competition among
affluent parents over slots in favored preschools verges on the gladiatorial. A
pair of economists from the University of California recently dubbed this
contest for early academic achievement the "Rug Rat Race," and each year, the
race seems to be starting earlier and growing more intense.
At the root of this parental anxiety is an idea you might call the cognitive
hypothesis. It is the belief, rarely spoken aloud but commonly held nonetheless,
that success in the U.S. today depends more than anything else on cognitive
skill—the kind of intelligence that gets measured on IQ tests—and that the best
way to develop those skills is to practice them as much as possible, beginning
as early as possible.
There is something undeniably compelling about the cognitive hypothesis. The
world it describes is so reassuringly linear, such a clear case of inputs here
leading to outputs there. Fewer books in the home means less reading ability;
fewer words spoken by your parents means a smaller vocabulary; more math work
sheets for your 3-year-old means better math scores in elementary school. But in
the past decade, and especially in the past few years, a disparate group of
economists, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists has begun to produce
evidence that calls into question many of the assumptions behind the cognitive
What matters most in a child's development, they say, is not how much
information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years of life. What
matters, instead, is whether we are able to help her develop a very different
set of qualities, a list that includes persistence, self-control, curiosity,
conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. Economists refer to these as
noncognitive skills, psychologists call them personality traits, and the rest of
us often think of them as character.
If there is one person at the hub of this new interdisciplinary network, it
is James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago who in 2000 won the
Nobel Prize in economics. In recent years, Mr. Heckman has been convening
regular invitation-only conferences of economists and psychologists, all engaged
in one form or another with the same questions: Which skills and traits lead to
success? How do they develop in childhood? And what kind of interventions might
help children do better?
The transformation of Mr. Heckman's career has its roots in a study he
undertook in the late 1990s on the General Educational Development program,
better known as the GED, which was at the time becoming an increasingly popular
way for high-school dropouts to earn the equivalent of high-school diplomas. The
GED's growth was founded on a version of the cognitive hypothesis, on the belief
that what schools develop, and what a high-school diploma certifies, is
cognitive skill. If a teenager already has the knowledge and the smarts to
graduate from high school, according to this logic, he doesn't need to waste his
time actually finishing high school. He can just take a test that measures that
knowledge and those skills, and the state will certify that he is, legally, a
high-school graduate, as well-prepared as any other high-school graduate to go
on to college or other postsecondary pursuits.
Mr. Heckman wanted to examine this idea more closely, so he analyzed a few
large national databases of student performance. He found that in many important
ways, the premise behind the GED was entirely valid. According to their scores
on achievement tests, GED recipients were every bit as smart as high-school
graduates. But when Mr. Heckman looked at their path through higher education,
he found that GED recipients weren't anything like high-school graduates. At age
22, Mr. Heckman found, just 3% of GED recipients were either enrolled in a
four-year university or had completed some kind of postsecondary degree,
compared with 46% of high-school graduates. In fact, Heckman discovered that
when you consider all kinds of important future outcomes—annual income,
unemployment rate, divorce rate, use of illegal drugs—GED recipients look
exactly like high-school dropouts, despite the fact that they have earned this
supposedly valuable extra credential, and despite the fact that they are, on
average, considerably more intelligent than high-school dropouts.
These results posed, for Mr. Heckman, a confounding intellectual puzzle. Like
most economists, he had always believed that cognitive ability was the single
most reliable determinant of how a person's life would turn out. Now he had
discovered a group—GED holders—whose good test scores didn't seem to have any
positive effect on their eventual outcomes. What was missing from the equation,
Mr. Heckman concluded, were the psychological traits, or noncognitive skills,
that had allowed the high-school graduates to make it through school.
So what can parents do to help their children develop skills like motivation
and perseverance? The reality is that when it comes to noncognitive skills, the
traditional calculus of the cognitive hypothesis—start earlier and work
harder—falls apart. Children can't get better at overcoming disappointment just
by working at it for more hours. And they don't lag behind in curiosity simply
because they didn't start doing curiosity work sheets at an early enough
Instead, it seems, the most valuable thing that parents can do to help their
children develop noncognitive skills—which is to say, to develop their
character—may be to do nothing. To back off a bit. To let our children face some
adversity on their own, to fall down and not be helped back up. When you talk
today to teachers and administrators at high-achieving high schools, this is
their greatest concern: that their students are so overly protected from
adversity, in their homes and at school, that they never develop the crucial
ability to overcome real setbacks and in the process to develop strength of
American children, especially those who grow up in relative comfort, are,
more than ever, shielded from failure as they grow up. They certainly work hard;
they often experience a great deal of pressure and stress; but in reality, their
path through the education system is easier and smoother than it was for any
previous generation. Many of them are able to graduate from college without
facing any significant challenges. But if this new research is right, their
schools, their families, and their culture may all be doing them a disservice by
not giving them more opportunities to struggle. Overcoming adversity is what
produces character. And character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and
—Adapted from "How Children Succeed:
Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character" by Paul Tough, which has just
been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt."
You may wish to reread this post, and/or ask that others take the time to read it as well.
Perhaps even tell some other parents, kids, grandkids, teachers, coaches, administrators and others about it.
Possibly even get the book and read it as well.
That's my hope, and it's my intention, too.