“I am sitting at the open window (at four a.m.) and breathing the lovely air of a spring morning… Life is still good, [and] it is worth living on a May morning… I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything! This “everything” includes the following items: 1. Illness; I am getting much too stout, and my nerves are all to pieces. 2. The Conservatoire oppresses me to extinction; I am more and more convinced that I am absolutely unfitted to teach the theory of music. 3. My pecuniary situation is very bad. 4. I am very doubtful if Undine will be performed. I have heard that they are likely to throw me over.”
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
“You absolutely have to believe in yourself. Man, you’ll get rejected hundreds of times. You have to believe in yourself if you’re going to succeed.”
Jon Bon Jovi
Confidence – noun, a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
Tchaikovsky was plagued by depression and also a hypochondriac. Somehow, he persevered and produced prolifically. Bon Jovi and Tchaikovsky both possessed the drive to create music. This high level of motivation enabled them to overcome obstacles such as rejection and mental illness.
My optometrist told me about his Corvette Stingray. He got it from a couple who purchased a brand new car and needed space in their garage. Everything in the Corvette was shot: the engine, upholstery, paint, some of the body was dented. They had it towed to his house.
Two years later, his Stingray is on the road. He fixed the engine himself. The upholstery still needs to be replaced, but the car has come back from the dead. The doc worked on it every weekend for two years.
Sometimes, our dreams might take years, because we “only have the weekends” to work on them. But with diligence and consistency, they WILL actualize.
The author of this book, Paul Tough, did NOT graduate from college!
Tough does not fit the demographic of college dropouts: He came from a well-to-do family; and got admitted to (and briefly attended) Columbia University.
However, he was rebellious after high school (where he did very well). Inspired by Jack Kerouac, he wanted to travel and do something uncertain, unsafe…something he felt uncertain if he could succeed at. Believe he would learn more on the road than on the campus.
Steve Jobs’ famous graduation speech at Stanford (2005): Job told graduates that dropping out “had been one of the best decisions I ever made.”
allowed him to take classes he was interested in (calligraphy, typography)
this led to his creative typography in personal computers – distinguished Mac from all other computers
Biggest failure – being fired from Apple – a very public failure
allowed him to reorient himself and his work that led to his greatest successes: buying and transforming Pixar, getting married, returning to Apple rejuvenated
“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything.”
Paul Tough: became a magazine editor and journalist. Twenty-four years after dropping out of Columbia, Tough quit the New York Times and wrote this book.
2. LG Parenting
Remember the high and low level Licking and Grooming experiment with rats?
Paul Tough thinks about that often now that he has become a new father.
Realizes that the most reliable way to produce and adult who is brave and curious and kind and prudent is to ensure that when he is an infant, his hypo-pituitary-adrenal his functions well. How?
Protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress;
provide him with secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent, ideally, two.
provide lots of comforting, hugging, talking and reassuring;
also provide discipline, rules, limits, someone to say “no”;
help him to learn how to manage failure;
“More and more graduates from prestigious colleges are going into investment banking and management consulting and far fewer become artists, entrepreneurs and iconoclasts. Why? Because Wall Street decision is easier…they are driven by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular.” p. 184
3. A Different Challenge
Liberals and conservatives differ greatly on how the government should aid families in poverty, but just about everyone agrees we need to do something.
“The government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep.”
In 2012, the child poverty rate was 22%. This means between a fifth and a quarter of American children are growing up in poverty. (From 1966 to 2010, the child poverty rate was 15%.)
Unsurprisingly, children who grow up in poor families in the United States do very poorly in school.
If we can help poor children escape the cycle of poverty, we can help them improve their academic skills and academic outcomes.
Conclusion: We could replicate on a big, national scale the accomplishments of the schools outlined in this book and make a huge dent on poverty’s impact on children’s success.
4. A Different Kind of Reform p. 189
For a long time, educational reform was focused on teacher quality and they way teachers are hired, trained, compensated and fired.
Whatever your stance, research on teachers remains inconclusive in some important ways:
we don’t know how to reliably predict who will be a top-tier teacher in any given year;
variations in teacher quality accounted for less than 10% of the gap between high and low-performing students.
The only official indicator of the economic status of an American public-school student today is his or her eligibility for a school-lunch subsidy.
If you qualify for subsidies, you probably can’t afford adequate shelter, nutritious food, new clothes, books or educational toys. Statistically, you are likely being raised by a poorly educated, never-married single mother.
5. The Politics of Disadvantage
The biggest obstacles to academic success that poor children, especially very poor children, often face: a home and a community that create very high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage that stress.
Character matters: grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism.
Perry Preschool – 128 children in poverty randomly chosen to attend high-quality preschool program. Experts believe that the school gave a return between $7 to $12 for each dollar spent.
The website displays data that starting quality education for the very poor at an early age has lasting effects (through the participants’ 40s)!
Here is my second to last installment of research notes from Paul Tough’s book “How Children Succeed.” It’s lengthy, but the last few pages were especially insightful and inspiring!
Chapter 3: How to Think p. 105
6th grader, played chess and lost a game
Elizabeth Spiegel – his teacher
They discussed each game afterwards, including how long he spent thinking of each move. “Two seconds” receives a “If you make a mistake, that’s okay, but if you do something without even thinking about it, that’s not okay.”
Spiegel was featured in NY Times 2009 because her low-income kids were beating wealthy kids at chess.
The secret? Spiegel sat with them and reviewed every game, emphasized the need to slow down and think.
IQ and Chess
1997 Deep Blue (a chess=playing computer program) beat Garry Kasparov world chess champion since 1985.
In 1997, Jonathan Levitt proposed a mathematical relationshipo between IQ and chess prowess:
Elo~(10 x IQ) + 1000 (Elo is a player’s tournament rating)
Therefore, an IQ of 100 would yield a chess rating of 2000, tops.
Jonathan Rowson, Scottish grandmaster, completely disagrees. “Your ability to recognize and utilize your emotions is every bit as important as the way you think.”
Two of the most important executive functions are cognitive flexibility and cognitive self-control.
Cognitive flexibility = ability to see alternative solutions to problems, to think outside the box
Cognitive self-control = ability to inhibit an instinctive or habitual response and substitute a more effective, less obvious one.
“Teaching chess is really about teaching the habits that go along with thinking.” Spiegel
“It’s like psychotherapy, you go over your mistakes and you try to get to the bottom of why you make them.” Spiegel
Spiegel is top 30 of female chess players in the nation
Chess became an obsession
Spiegel wanted to encourage her students, but her advice was based on “I know you think you did something right here, but you’re wrong.” She felt mean all the time and had anxiety as a teacher.
She told kids they were being lazy and making stupid mistakes. She considered stopping this message but then they showed dramatic progress.
“Perhaps what pushes middle-school students to concentrate and practice as maniacally as Spiegel’s chess players do is the unexpected experience of someone taking them seriously, believing in their abilities and challenging them to improve themselves.” p. 120-21
Challenge students to look deeply at their own mistakes, examine why they had made them, and think hard about what they might have done differently. ——> remarkably effective.
Spiegel taught her students grit, curiosity, self-control and optimism.
She also taught social intelligence: had them think about their actions and consequences when it came to friendships and trust.
Justus and James
Justus – started playing chess in third grade – showed great promise
James – also very serious about chess. Had a brother in prison for murder. James was below in school, but studied chess 6 hours a day.
The Marshall Chess Club – most prestigious in the U.S.
Founded in 1915 by Frank Marshall, chess champion
Offers a few free memberships to Spiegel’s students
Games last 4 hours against far superior players
“Spiegel reminds her students that the best way to improve your chess is to play against the best, even if they take you apart.”
James won a game against a 30-year old international master – surprising everyone
Chess can be an antidote to ADHD
Jonathan Rowson, Scottish grand master: “When it comes to ambition, it is crucial to distinguish between ‘wanting’ something and ‘choosing’ it.” If you want it, you will not get it and you’ll have unpleasant experience of falling short. If you choose it, you will reveal your choice through your behavior and your determination. Every action says, “This is who I am.”
There is philosophical question of whether chess is “productive” when it literally produces nothing. But chess players say it is a beautiful pursuit, “celebrating freedom above utility” – a celebration of existential freedom.
Anders Ericsson’s theory: “In order to truly master any skill, you must have 10,000 hour of practice under your belt.”
Gata Kamsky: born in Soviet Russia in 1974, by a former box father.
Kamsky practice and studied chess 14 hours a day
Never attended school, never watched television, played no sports, had no friends
Father was violent and temperamental during chess matches
At 22, Kamsky quit chess, got married, attended medical school and then law school but could not pass the bar
Returned to chess in 2004. Is now the top-rated chess player in U.S. and tenth in the world.
His 10,000+ hours over rode the 8 year hiatus
Flow p. 135
Is it better to be interested in many things a little bit or be a lot interested in one thing?
“Flow (Csikszentmihalyi) – moments when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile.” A feeling of intense well-being and control.
You only experience flow if you’re good at something.
Spiegel believes that people who are not really good at anything are missing out.
Optimism and Pessimism
Psychologists studied chess players
It was not better visual memories or quicker analysis…
Their ability to perform one particular mental task: Falsification
The only way to test a particular theory is to prove it wrong (Sir Karl Popper)
Individuals don’t test theories to look for evidence contrary to their beliefs. Instead, they look for data to prove themselves right = confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is a big problem for chess players.
Better chess players are pessimistic.
At the same time, it’s best if the player is optimistic about herself.
Sunday p. 141
James was extremely nervous. Coach told him to think about the game: “play slowly, take your time, be confident.”
“For more than a year, James studied, solved tactics, played, analyzed his games, confronted his own mistakes and misunderstandings, and he did not give up. In the last year he has played 65 tournaments and three hundred and one rated games. He plays in tournaments until eleven o’clock at night, and then gets up early every morning to do thirty minutes of tactics before school. He has worked so hard, so patiently, for so long.” (Spiegel)
Believed James could ace the specialized-school exam, based on his dedication and success in chess.
They both got discouraged during study sessions. James represented for Speigel, a challenging puzzle. He clearly possessed keen intelligence. He worked hard and tirelessly. Yes, he was below average in standard academic prectors. She was angry for him for how little non-chess information he had been taught.
The test is difficult to cram for. It reflects the knowledge and skills that a student has accrued over the years, through school, family and culture.
James did not get into Stuyvestant, but still had four years of high school ahead of him.
How To Succeed
Mid-1990s: American college graduation rate was highest in the world
But now, U.S. has fallen to 12th in percentage of 25 – 34 year olds who graduate from a 4 year college. (We trail behind UK, Australia, Poland, Norway and South Korea).
The data suggests a class divide: wealthy students are increasing in graduation rates, the the most disadvantaged Americans are DROPPING in graduation rates.
1945 – 65, thanks to the GI Bill, soldiers went through college
Even children of factory workers attended college
College was an instrument of upward mobility – every generation reached a level of education that greatly exceeded the generation before….until recently
The problem is not ACCESS, but COMPLETION
According to a study of 34 member countries, the U.S. leads the world in producing college dropouts.
Puzzling: at the same time this is happening, a college graduate with a BA degree makes 83% more than one with a high school diploma.
Why are so many Americans dropping out?
The Finish Line (p. 150)
Best answer comes from a book titled “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities
Authors were able to gain access of data through 68 public universities, ACT board and College Board
For a long time, conservatives believed that “we push students to attend college when (some) are not smart enough to be there (low-income, low-IQ).
But in fact, this is NOT the case. Low-income, uneducated students went to colleges well BELOW their ability. Undermatching led to dropping out.
ACT scores were not the indicator of college success. High school GPA was/is.
A 3.5 GPA from a rural high school vs. an urban one did not make much difference.
Duckworth found: standardized test scores predicted pure IQ tests and GPA predicted self-control.
THUS, a predictor of college completion is NOT how smart the student is, but motivation, perseverance, study habits and time management skills do.
When Nelson was teaching sixth grade, he told his low-income African-American students they could graduate if they just worked hard. And then he read the paper: Fewer than 1 in 30 black male high-school freshmen in Chicago would graduation from a four-year college by the time they were 25.
Nelson decided that teaching was not his true calling (despite being especially great at it)
Teach for America offered him an executive director’s role (national) at 24. He turned it down. Fell into a deep depression. His former students’ parents felt that they were losing all that they had gained with him. They asked what to do. He didn’t know how to help.
He prayed. He went into therapy. He wrote pages and pages of poetry. He was trying to find his mission.
January 2007, Nelson received a call from Eddie Lou, a venture capitalist.
Lou had set up a non-profit with others called “Urban Students Empowered Foundation”
Afterschool program for juniors and seniors – tutored them to increase GPA and ACT scores
It was producing impressive results – all who entered the program made it into college
Nelson was offered him a job as executive director. He accepted.
Urban Students Empowered become OneGoal.
Nelson believes underperforming high-school students can transform themselves into high successful college students, but they need a highly effective teacher.
The second piece: A clear path to college
OneGoal helps students not just with their applications, but the entire college-admission strategy: choosing match schools (not undermatch), decide close or far away schools; write appealing application essays; finding scholarships.
Nelson realized they also needed help in staying in college.
He identified 5 skills necessary to offset any academic weaknesses for college success:
OneGoal introduced their new methods at ACE Tech, a rundown school in a slum area of Chicago
Some students were not convinced they would be successful and their families encouraged them to stay close to home and not shoot high.
Test Scores p. 166
Kewauna – no one in her family ever went to college – she was poor and struggling, but dreamed of going to college and having a job where she carried a briefcase.
Finished her junior year an almost-straight A student (A few A-s, but not a single B)
But she could not score higher than 15 on the ACT.
Nelson believes the ACT score reflects quality of education, NOT intelligence
Kewauna’s Ambitions p. 168
During her senior year, she got turned down by scholarships she had applied for
She felt depressed and discouraged, pessimistic
She recalled her two years in remedial school where she didn’t learn anything. “I could have been learning all this stuff that I needed for my ACT!”
At last, she got accepted by Western Illinois.
Closing the Gap
1961, full-time college students spend 24 hour/week studying
1981, it fell to 20 hours/week
2003, it fell to 14 hours/week – with 12 hours hanging out with friends, 14 hours consuming entertainment and 11 hours computer fun and 6 exercising
For many affluent students, college is an opportunity to pledge for a fraternity or drink heavily or write for the student newspaper
Nelson sees it as an opportunity for his students to close the gap Kewauna – introduced herself to each teacher, took notes in every lecture – wrote and starrred words she didn’t know and asked professors to explain – went to office hours frequently. Sat in the front (noticed other African-Americans sitting in the back and was disappointed); made sure she exchanged contact info witha couple people in each class in case she couldn’t get a hold of the professor.
When money on her meal card ran out, she didn’t eat for two days.
How passionate and persevering are you? Duckworth’s research shows the power of grit (courage and resolve). This is a strong indicator for success. People who score high in grit rarely quit or drop out of their pursuits.
The following is a continuation of my notes on Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed:
Chapter 2 HOW TO BUILD CHARACTER p. 49
Best Class Ever – 1999 KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Academy – 8th grade – all Black and Hispanic, most low-income, earned the highest scores of ANY school in the Bronx (just four years in the program).
Climb the Mountain to College – college was always the goal
But only 8 got a college degree
Culture shock – overwhelmed
While in KIPP, they felt and acted like a family
KIPP did not prepare them for high school emotionally or psychologically
Nobody checks your homework
Learned Optimism p. 52
Levin noticed that the kids who succeeded in high school and graduated from college were not necessarily the highest academically. They possessed other gifts: optimism, social agility, resilience. Levin called these CHARACTER STRENGTHS.
Martin Seligman – Learned Optimism – it’s a skill that can be learned, not innate
Pessimistic adults and children can train themselves to be optimistic
Will lead to more happiness, health and success
Seligman – depression is simply a severe low mood
Pessimists react to negative events by explaining them as permanent, personal and pervasive
(e.g. failed a test because you’re stupid, not because you failed to prepare)
Seligman yelled a lot, in his class
Levin did a book study with his staff. Why do some of our students feel not well-liked?
Riverdale p. 55
Levin grew up in a ritzy area of Riverdale – he was a standout student in math and science AND the captain of the basketball team; Director of his boarding school believes CHARACTER is missing in today’s qualifications in school (grit, working hard, perseverance).
Daniel Goleman – Emotional Intelligence
Randolph, Seligman and Levin had a meeting – the beginning of a fruitful alliance
Character Strengths p. 58
Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification by Seligman and Peterson
A study in character; an effort to identify (concretely) what character is
Finalized 24 character strengths they believed to be universally respected
includes : bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom, integrity; love, humor, zest, appreciation of beauty; day-to-day interactions (social intelligence), kindness, gratitude
–These virtues were chosen because they could lead to the “good life” of fulfillment and meaning – had practical benefits
Seligman and Peterson – defined character as malleable – skills you can learn and practice and teach
Not finger wagging or blaming, but focus on personal growth (pg. 60)
Self-Control and Willpower
Seligman, Levin and Randolph turned to Angela Duckworth (in her PhD dissertation, after working in schools, she said the problem was not just in schools, but students themselves) “Learning is hard…it can be daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging…character is at least as important as intellect.”
Duckworth started her research with self-discipline: 164 8th graders.
Self-discipline levels were more indicative to GPA than IQ.
Collaborated with Walter Mischel, famous for his marshmallow test with four-year olds (delayed gratification study).
Duckworth was intrigued by this study – how did those with more self-discipline strategize or help themselves to delay gratification?
“Children who did best at this test created their own distractions.” [Talked, sang, covered their eyes, one kid took a nap]
With simple prompts, children were able to think of the marshmallow abstractly, which led to higher success.
After a six week long course to help students develop self-discipline, students believed they improved, but they didn’t.
Marshmallows were easy…very clear goals.
High school and college graduation are not as clear or tangible.
Duckworth divided the mechanics of achievement into two: motivation and volition. BOTH are requisites.
What if students just aren’t motivated to achieve the goals their teachers or parents want them to achieve?
All the self-control tricks in the world will not help.
But motivation can still occur. It’s just highly complex. Rewards sometimes backfire.
Reward systems in schools (stickers, candy, prizes) have not been successful.
The Coding-Speed Test p. 66
No one really knows how to motivate people well.What motivates us is hard to explain and hard to measure.
Different personality types respond differently to different motivations.
The coding-speed test (Segal) actually tested the test-takers’ inclination to force themselves to care about the world’s most boring test.
It was proof that they TRIED harder. The low-stakes, low-reward test predicted how well someone is going to do in life. Over decades, Segal gave the test to the same people and in their forties, he compared their salaries. Those who scored high on this test made considerably higher salaries.
What Segal’s study measured was conscientiousness.
Brent Roberts, U of IL (Urbana-Champaign) – reigning expert on conscientiousness
This was not studied much by researchers because it denoted “control” and nobody wants to talk about people being controlled. However, Industrial/Organizational Psychology grew into everyone’s consciousness – because companies want to hire the most productive, reliable and diligent workers they can find. They found that conscientiousness was critical.
Roberts found that people high in conscientiousness:
get better grades in high school and college;
Commit fewer crimes;
Stay married longer;
Live longer (fewer strokes, lower BP, lower incidence of Alzheimers)
The Downside of Self-Control (p. 71)
People who are critics of the education setting are not swayed by conscientiousness findings.
“Strength of character” – includes conscientiousness, responsibility, insistently orderly, determined and persevering.
This measure was 3x more successful in predicting college performance than SAT scores or college rank
Critics believe there is an inverse relationship between high GPA and creativity; that corporations want “drones” to simply follow directions and work
Conscientiousness and self-control go hand in hand
Critics (Jack Block, UC Berkeley) believes highly conscientious people are “compulsive, anxious and repressed.”
A New Zealand study, however, runs contrary to this finding: a three-decade long study following children into adulthood found a strong correlation between lack of self-control to (at the age of 32)- more likely to have health problems, bad credit rating and trouble with the law (3x higher than those who demonstrated self-control as young children). Also, 3x more likely to have multiple addictions and 2x as likely to raise children in a single household.