A slightly different take on Tough's Big Idea is voiced by Joe Nocera in today's New York Times:
Tough argues that simply teaching math and reading--the so-called cognitive skills--isn't nearly enough, especially for children who have grown up enduring the stresses of poverty. In fact, it might not even be the most important thing.Notice how quickly Nocera slips from the obvious--that teaching teach math and reading isn't nearly enough--to the ridiculous. To say that learning to read and do math might not be the most important elements of success is like saying that adequate food and shelter might not be the most important elements of staying alive (after all one must also breathe oxygen). When it come to essential elements, it's pointless to quibble over what's most important.
In interviews Tough is careful to admit that, while schools need to do more to encourage persistence and curiosity, there are no clear studies on how to do this. Refreshing though this caveat is, it, too, raises the question of what this book has to offer that's new and plausible, or at least useful.
There is one disturbing answer to that last question. To the careless reader who approaches the book from the perspective of the dominant educational paradigm, it offers yet another reason to water down academics in favor of "the whole child." The connections between grit and academic rigor, and between curiosity and well-taught academic subjects, should be as obvious as the inherent importance of grit is. Indeed, I'm guessing these connections are obvious to most people. But they clearly aren't obvious to many of those wielding the greatest power over whether or not our children succeed.