In this series of posts, I’ve been exploring the ideas in How Children Succeed, that suggest that doing well in school won’t lead to success. As a final note, in How Children Succeed, Paul Tough spent a lot of time defining success as disadvantaged students graduating from college. However, his book shows that –
College isn’t needed for success.
Let me follow this by immediately saying that we’ve decided that our kids will go to college, which I might cover in another post, but for now I’m just going to go over the evidence that shows that is isn’t necessary for success.
To begin with, even though the author of How Children Succeed, Paul Tough, was a high-achieving high school student, he never graduated from college! He attempted college, twice, but dropped out when he realized he was already good at this “game.” He first dropped out to take a cross country bike tour and then to do a journalism internship.
Tough dropped out of something he was good at to take a chance on something he could be passionate about.
Ironically, Tough doesn’t see it that way himself. He still thinks he’s looking for his passion, his grit.
I’m not sure what he calls devoting two years of his life to research for a book about education, but I certainly see it as a passion. And there are parallels between his own story and the convocation speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005.
Obviously if Tough never graduated from college, he didn’t learn how to find his passion or grit at a college or university.
Tough also makes the case that education at elite high schools, followed by elite colleges are universities, are set up for a high degree of non-failure, rather than to allow for spectacular success. To do this, he draws a correlation between elite universities and colleges and the high number of graduates who go into finance careers. In 2010 (after the financial collapse of 2008), more than half of Princeton graduates still took jobs in investment banking or consulting instead of becoming something like entrepreneurs. According to Tough, “… we are sending so many of our best and brightest people into professions that are… not known for their high levels of personal fulfillment or deep social value…” an idea he says is backed up by a blog post by James Kwak, “Why do Harvard Kids Head to Wallstreet.”[link] According to Kwak, these are people who “have ended each phase of their lives by taking the test to do the most prestigious thing possible in the next phase…” (Kwak’s post is a reaction to Why do Harvard kids head to Wall Street? An interview with an ex-Wall Street recruit, in the Washington Post.)
I always find it most interesting when what I read and research lines up with what people tell me directly, or when it lines up with my own personal experiences. I have often joked that I have a PhD in Biology because it was the easiest thing to do! But back to the issue of the large number of college graduates from elite colleges going on to finance careers.
I would agree that a large number of our brightest students going into finance is a mistake. While Tough sees the biggest tragedy of the failure of the academic system is still leaving the disadvantaged kids behind, I see a huge number of our brightest students only going into finance as an equal tragedy. In order to succeed in the new global economy, our kids need to be innovative leaders, not just non-failures. But, let’s face it, our economy certainly rewards financial careers monetarily, which is another problem.
But while I’d like for my kids to be comfortably economically, I want more than just financial success for them. This book helped convince me that my kids aren’t going to find what they need in school, and I shouldn’t expect them to. But my main worry is that if they’re a good student, “education” might be teaching the ability to succeed right out of them.
For further reading by Paul Tough on education:
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