In 1997 I read Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and my life has never been the same since. That book put words to thoughts and ideas and feelings I had been struggling with as a Christ-follower for several years. It ignited a passion that inspired me to be a voice for the poor and marginalized within Evangelical circles and ultimately led to the founding of Community 4:12.
I can't help but wonder if I will look back on 2012 and the reading of Paul Tough's book How Children Succeed in the same way. My work with under-resourced communities has forced me to care about education, and the glaring inequities between low and high income school districts. As I have watched my husband and many others teach for years in one of those lower income school districts, I have seen the frustration that comes from pouring everything you have into helping children learn, only to be told that your students and your school is not making "adequate yearly progress." The educational reform movement fueled by No Child Left Behind insists that with high quality teachers any student can learn and excel on achievement tests. From my perspective, as a non-educator, the result of that has been a lot of discouraged, disempowered teachers and not a lot of progress on improving student achievement. I have felt in my gut for years that we cannot measure a teacher or a student's success based solely on academic achievement as determined by standardized tests.
And Tough's research and resulting book confirm that. A child's success in school, college, and life is better predicted by certain character traits (such as grit, perseverence, curiosity, optimism, self-control) than by scores on achievement tests. And the research also shows that those character traits, or life-skills, can in fact be taught. So, why is that not the foundation of educational reform in our country? Do we really only care about getting kids through school with a certain academic proficiency, or do we care about creating a generation of kids--rich and poor--who go on to succeed in life?
As I launch my run for School Board for East Aurora District 131, I am beginning a new journey into the realm of advocacy and public policy. Will Tough's book provide me the inspiration and motivation to work again for something I have long believed in my gut to be true? Will I have the grit and perseverence and optimism to fight for the reform needed to set all children in East Aurora up to succeed--not just on achievement tests, but in life?