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集中精力

【导读】这本书 能改变我们抚养孩子的方式,改变学校运作的模式,指导我 们如何构建社会安全网络。当然,也会改 变我们对童年本身的理解。

School reform
学校改革

Stay focused
集中精力
Jan 19th 2013 |From the print edition


When pawns gain control
当卒掌控全局时

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul Tough. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 256 pages; $27. Random House; £12.99. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk
《孩子怎样能赢:持之以恒,好奇心 和性格中隐藏的力量》,作者Paul Tough,霍顿•米夫林• 哈考特 ( Houghton Mifflin Harcourt )出版社:全书256页,售价27美元;兰登书屋,售价12.99英镑。美国和 英国亚马逊有售。

THE young teenagers who graduated from a special South Bronx middle school in 1999 became nationally famous. All black and Hispanic and largely from low-income families, the students had been recruited four years earlier to participate in an experimental programme called KIPP (ie, the Knowledge Is Power Program), designed to close the achievement gap between privileged and poor students. The experience seemed to pay off: in a citywide test, these students earned the highest scores of any school in the Bronx, and the fifth-highest in all of New York City. Most won admission to top high schools, often with full scholarships. They all seemed destined for college, and for successful, precedent-bucking, demographic-defying lives.

1999年毕业 于南布朗克斯的一所特殊中学的青少年闻名全国。他们都 是来自低收入家庭的拉丁裔美国黑人,四年前被征集参加了KIPP实验项目(即“知识就是力量项目”)。该项目 旨在缩小富裕家庭和贫困家庭的学生成就间的差距。试验似乎取得了成效:在布朗 克斯市的所有学校中,这些学 生的分数是最高的,在整个 纽约市排名第五。其中大 多通常以全额奖学金被顶级高中录取。他们似 乎命中注定要上大学,他们的 人生注定会成功、打破先例、冲破人口的劣势。

But six years after their high-school graduation, only about a fifth of KIPP’s first class had completed a four-year college degree. Most ended up dropping out, reaffirming America’s growing class divide on college campuses. KIPP’s founders were distraught, particularly because a college degree has never been more valuable, enabling Americans to earn some 80% more than people with only a high-school diploma. So how had KIPP failed to prepare these students for college? What did they do wrong?

然而,在他们 高中毕业的六年后,KIPP最好的 一批学生中完成了四年的大学学业的仅有五分之一。大部分人最终辍学了,再度证 实了美国大学校园里的等级分化在日益增长,KIPP的创始 人对此感到忧心如焚,其主要 原因就在于大学学历含金量从未如此之高,拥有大 学文凭美国人比仅有高中文凭的能多赚80%左右。那么为何KIPP项目没 能使这些学生完成大学呢?他们做错了什么?

Paul Tough, a journalist and former editor at the New York Times Magazine, aims to answer these thorny questions in “How Children Succeed”, an ambitious and elegantly written new book, now out in Britain. The problem, he writes, is that academic success is believed to be a product of cognitive skills—the kind of intelligence that gets measured in IQ tests. This view has spawned a vibrant market for brain-building baby toys, and an education-reform movement that sweats over test scores. But new research from a spate of economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and educators has found that the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses. The KIPP students who graduated from college were not the academic stars but the workhorses, the ones who plugged away at problems and resolved to do better.

Paul Tough是《纽约时报杂志》的前任编辑,现在是一名记者。在他的《孩子怎样能赢》这本书中,为我们 解答了这些复杂难懂的疑问。这部新作品内容大胆、文笔优美,现在在英国出版。书中他指出,学术成 就被认为是认知能力(一种在IQ测试中 被评估的理解力)的产物,这也是问题所在。该观点 促进了儿童益智玩具市场的活跃,同时也 引起了努力对测验分数进行的教育改革运动。但是大量的经济学家、心理学家、神经学 科学家以及教育家的最新研究发现,看一个 学生是否能通过并超过大学的技能与学生的智力水平无关,更多的 是普通的人格特质,比如说 集中精力和克制冲动的能力。KIPP项目中 大学毕业的学生并不是学术尖子,而是那 些能吃苦耐劳的人,他们一 直努力地解决问题并下定决心要做的更好。

So non-cognitive skills like persistence and curiosity are highly predictive of future success. But where do these traits come from? And how can they be developed? In search of answers, Mr Tough first looks at the problem on a neurological level. Apparently medical reasons explain why children who grow up in abusive or dysfunctional environments generally find it harder to concentrate, sit still and rebound from disappointments. The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the prefrontal cortex, which is critical for regulating thoughts and mediating behaviour. When this region is damaged—a common condition for children living amid the pressures of poverty—it is tougher to suppress unproductive instincts.

所以,诸如坚 持和好奇心等非认知能力才能准确地预测未来能否成功。但这些 特质是怎样形成的?又该如何培养呢?为了找到答案,Mr Tough首先从 神经学角度来看这个问题。为何在 充斥着咒骂或者不正常的环境中成长的孩子更难集中精力、静坐和 从失望中走出来,医学的 原因对此给出了明显的解释。大脑中 的前额皮质层受早期压力的影响最大,前额皮 质对于日常思考和行为调节起到重要的作用。如果该区域受到损伤——对于生 活中饱受贫困压力的孩子来说这很常见——他们抑 制那些毫无益处的本能更困难。

The science seems daunting, but it also points the way forward. Studies show that early nurturing from parents or caregivers helps combat the biochemical effects of stress. And educators can push better habits and self control. The “prefrontal cortex is more responsive to intervention than other parts of the brain,” writes Mr Tough. It stays malleable well into early adulthood. Character can be taught.

科学上 的解释似乎令人气馁,但也给 我们指明了前进的方向。研究显示,早期父 母或看护的培养有助于战胜压力产生的生物化学影响。并且,教育者 能够促进孩子形成更好的习惯和自制力。“大脑中 对行为干预起最重要作用的部分是前额皮质层,”Mr Tough如是写道。童年早 期时前额皮质层仍然是容易改变的。性格能被调教出来。

But schools have experience creating classes that raise test scores. Figuring out the best way to help youths develop “grit”—a passionate dedication to a goal—is trickier. Psychological interventions require more sophistication than teaching maths, and one of the big problems facing underperforming schools in America is a shortage of good teachers. But Mr Tough highlights some promising efforts to take these lessons about non-cognitive skills on board. A fascinating chapter considers the work of a young chess instructor in Brooklyn who turns unmotivated low-income students into chess champions by teaching them new ways to solve problems and recover from failures. In Chicago a programme called OneGoal, launched in 2009, is preparing struggling high-school students for college by stressing the link between hard work and destiny. And KIPP schools are now experimenting with something called a character report card, designed to show students that such traits can improve with time.

不过在 开设提高测验分数的课程上,学校富有经验。找到培养青少年“持之以恒”精神的最佳方式——对实现 目标的全身心投入——需要更高的技巧。当前美 国表现不佳的学校面临的大难题之一就是缺乏好老师,而心理 干预需要的比数学教学更为复杂。但是Mr Tough书中强 调了一些关于开设非认知技能课程的可行努力。其中有 一章讲述了布鲁克林的一位年轻象棋教官,通过教 授解决问题和走出失败的新方法,将毫无 动力的低收入家庭的学生训练成了象棋冠军,引人入胜。2009年,“目标”计划在芝加哥启动,它强调 了刻苦学习和命中注定之间的联系,让努力 奋斗的高中生为上大学做好准备。KIPP项目当 前还对性格成绩报告单进行实验,这份报 告单告诉了学生那些花时间能够改善的品质。

Replicating such initiatives on a grand scale will be hard, not least because they all seem to be run by uniquely talented and dedicated teachers and reformers. But at a time when ever more American children are living in poverty, better schools remain the most powerful anti-poverty tool available. After decades of failed efforts to improve the lives of poor students, Mr Tough has written a fine and provocative book about the kind of work that seems to be making a difference.

大规模 地如法炮制上述举措会十分困难。不单是 因为它们的实施看上去都需要具有独特才能并且专注认真的老师和改革者。更是由 于当今的美国贫困儿童达历史空前之多,更好的 学校仍然是最行之有效且最有力的反贫困工具。Mr Tough致力于 改善贫穷学生的生活状况,在他十 多年的努力失败后,创作出 这部激励人心的佳作,似乎将 对我们产生重大的影响。

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