My alarming conclusion from How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough, was that the set of qualities that our education system emphasizes – measures, teaches, and drills – aren’t traits that lead to success.
Why are grades so important to us? What, exactly, do grades and GPAs measure, and how did they come to be known as future predictors of success?
Self-discipline is more important to grades and GPAs than IQ.
It might seem obvious that self-discipline is more important to grades and GPAs than IQ. Everyone knows stories about geniuses that were terrible students. But never-the-less, grades have still become to be known as a measure of intelligence and a predictor of success later in life. If grades don’t measure intelligence, what do they measure?
Grades are a combination of organization, self-discipline, and motivation. All admirable qualities, to be sure. Self-discipline is also often called “conscientiousness” and is commonly recognized as a characteristic that leads to success in life. When Tough talks about teaching students character, this is what he’s referring to. I’ve come across this concept multiple places, and usually they point to the research of Angela Duckworth, who is studying the effects of different aspects of character on success.
It’s a complex task to try to tease the effects of motivation apart from that of intelligence. It’s even harder to figure out how to teach motivation. Because Tough’s main focus in How Children Succeed is spent trying to figure out the difference between students from low income families, that generally don’t go to college, and students from wealthier families, who usually do, Tough spends a full quarter of the book trying to show how how you might be able to teach motivation through chess. He talks about the importance of 10,000 hours of practice (an idea made well-known by Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.)
But while the stories in How Children Succeed about chess were interesting, and I was able to pick out 4 characteristics for success that chess might be able to teach, Tough didn’t convince me that teaching kids chess teaches them motivation. Certainly I don’t think that if you just teach your child chess then all your problems will be solved! Plus, motivation for good grades isn’t a particular challenge that my own kids are facing. What was more interesting to me was the connection that has come to be drawn between conscientiousness, grades, and later success in life.
The fact that conscientiousness has been tied to both grades and later success in life helps to explain why high grades have become so important. In 2011, a thirty year study by several psychologists, including Brent Roberts and led by Avshalom Caspi and Terri Moffitt, found that the lower the measures of self-control when someone was a child, the more likely they were to smoke, have addictions, have health problems, a bad credit rating, be raising kids in a single parent home, and criminal histories as an adult.
But interestingly enough, some of the research of Angela Duckworth has led her to the conclusion that self-discipline isn’t enough for success. In my next post, I’ll cover some of the information in How Children Succeed that suggests that the ability of students to complete lots of homework and get good grades, in other words, self-discipline, isn’t a good predictor of future success.
Obviously, there is a continuum along which students fall as far as grades and keeping up with their schoolwork. My concern is that at the top of the scale, many kids (and their parents) are over-doing it in the belief that it is an absolute path to future success. What do you think?
For an alternate view read: Yes, IQ Really Matters
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