Sunday, September 30, 2012

Paul Tough's How Children Succeed

A few years ago I read Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough. I was intrigued by Geoffrey Canada and wanted to learn more about his Harlem Children's Zone. I enjoyed the book and thought it was well written. So when I learned about Tough's new book, How Children Succeed, I knew I would read it.

I began reading it on vacation this summer and was fascinated. I was in New Mexico at my grandparent's home with my parents and my daughters. I read multiple passages aloud to anyone who would listen and talked at length with my mom (who was a nurse) about the medical studies he shares. The first two chapters, How to Fail (and How Not To) and How to Build Character were quite compelling. The third chapter, How to Think, is almost completely about one public school in New York City and its chess program. I found it mildly interesting but not nearly as much as Tough clearly did and it slowed my progress considerably (that and the end of my vacation and school starting). The final two chapters, How to Succeed and A Better Path were more interesting to me, but still paled in comparison with the first two.

One of the studies Tough references very early in the book, beginning on page nine, has haunted me for the past six weeks. It is the Adverse Childhood Experiences study. It was run by Kaiser Permanente in California beginning in 1995. Patients were asked to complete a questionnaire about their personal history in regards to adverse childhood experience, such as abuse neglect and various types of family dysfunction (ten total categories). This was requested when patients came in for a comprehensive physical exam. More than seventeen thousand questionnaires were returned, a rate of almost 70%. The individuals tended to be middle class, most were white and most had attended college.

They found that "the higher the ACE score, the worse the outcome on almost every measure from addictive behavior to chronic disease." (page 10) The statistics Tough states blew my mind.

The most astounding thing was that these adverse childhood experiences had a negative impact on health even for people who did not smoke, drink to excess, or were overweight. The new theory became that the cause of these health problems was the stress of these experiences. Essentially our bodies are not made to endure ongoing, constant stress and managing that stress day in and day out wears on our bodies.

This has barely scratched the surface of Tough's book, but it was the most compelling piece for me. Enough for me to continue on and do more research about the ACE study. For the record my ACE score is 0. You can find your own, if you are interested, here.

More to come I'm sure...


Luann Lee said...

I loved your take on this book. I'd just finished ordering it and then randomly I saw your tweet to this post. I'm becoming my own personal makerfaire with education as the focus.

Jenny said...

Luann, I'll be curious to hear what you think of the book. I'll be even more curious to follow your personal makerfaire.

jstevens said...

You can also keep up with developments on how organizations and communities are implementing ACE concepts on, and connect with other people who are implementing trauma-informed practices on

Tom Hoffman said...

Yes, I'd agree that his description of the problem is more convincing than his proposed solutions.

Jenny said...

jstevens, thanks for the link. I am truly fascinated by the ACE study.

Tom, in one sentence I think you have both summed up and managed to clarify for me my thinking about this book. I hadn't pinpointed why I preferred the earlier chapters but I think it is because his solutions are not very impressive.