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Friday, March 08, 2013

Review: How Children Succeed

In this age of hyper-parenting, queuing up and applying to pre-schools, one would expect How Children Succeed to be a book full of stories about tiger-moms and their high achieving scions. Refreshingly, this is a book about the students and families struggling to get out of poverty.

We get a smattering of mention of various studies, culminating in an introduction to the Tools of the Mind program. Strangely enough, my affluent neighborhood is full of Kumion cram schools as well as Montessori specialty kindergartens, but nobody brags about their Tools of the Mind curriculum. It's very likely that the tools of self-discipline, planning, and taking action is cultivated by upper middle class households as a matter of course, though one would think that something like Tools of the Mind would be useful no matter which strata of society you come from.

We don't get any expositions of music prodigies (thank goodness!), but instead get a long chapter about one teacher's attempt to successfully teach her disadvantaged kids to play chess and beat the upper class private schools in competition. It's a mesmerizing read, and worth your time. The punchline is that she coaches one of her star chess players on academics and absolutely fails to make a dent, showing you that success in one aspect of life doesn't get you far anywhere else.

Does this book teach you something you don't already know? Not really. It's a typical English major book, lacking pointers to studies as well as deep interviews with people who explore the development of executive function in children. But it's worth reading anyway. Recommended.

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