Winning through failure

March 13, 2013 9:00 AM

Johanna Gretschel

Paul Tough wants America’s kids to fail. Then, he wants them to fail again. This, says the New York Times Magazine contributing writer, is more beneficial to adult success than any Kaplan SAT prep course.

Lecturer Paul Tough signs books after his talk.

After lecturing at Tulane on "The Hidden Power of Character," author Paul Tough signs copies of his 2012 bestseller that's on the same topic. (Photo by Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo)

“We confuse stress for challenge,” Tough said at the 2013 Newcomb-Tulane College Lecture on Monday (March 11) in Dixon Hall. “For me, it’s the difference between exercising by climbing a mountain versus exercising by running on a treadmill. When you climb a mountain, there's a real challenge involved. There's an idea of failure. The traits of grit and self-control are born from failure.”

Tough’s latest book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, explores the notion that adult success is better predicted by the development of positive character traits than high SAT scores.

Several schools have recently introduced character report cards to evaluate students on their development of optimism, zest, grit, curiosity, social intelligence, gratitude and self-control. This move is in direct contrast to the country's overwhelming pressure on schools to produce higher standardized test scores.

Navigating failure prompts the development of these traits, according to Tough. Students who have successfully dealt with failure and moved on have grown mentally in a way that over-protected, sheltered students never encounter, he said.

Students in low-income environments are plagued by the daily trauma of poverty and street crime that often bars them from academic success and positive mental health. Yet, what Tough has found in recent studies is that adults from affluent backgrounds who encountered little to no adversity in their lives maintain an equally poor level of mental health as the adults whose lives have been entrenched in trauma.

“In trying to protect our kids, we’re doing more harm than good,” said Tough, who has written extensively about education, poverty and politics.

The 2013 Newcomb-Tulane College Lecture was presented thanks to a generous donation from Kylene and Brad Beers, with additional support from the NewDay Speaker Series and the Office of Academic Affairs.

Johanna Gretschel received a bachelor’s degree with an English major from Tulane in 2012, and she is in the master’s degree program.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu