If you hear talk of "licking and grooming" in Charlotte education circles, don't be startled. It's nothing kinky, just a phrase that author Paul Tough used repeatedly in his keynote speech at Wednesday's Education Summit.
But his point was serious: The human version of licking and grooming -- holding, soothing, talking and singing -- is the real "secret weapon" for creating successful students and adults. The flip side of that, he said, is "daunting and even depressing": Children who lack that support and grow up surrounded by chaos, trauma and stress often face a lifetime of ill effects.
Tough was definitely not waving the flag for a "blame the parents and write off the children" mindset. He said adolescence brings a second chance for teachers, volunteers and other caring adults to help kids develop the grit and optimism they'll need in life. The success stories he writes about all involve a crucial adult who helped students learn to deal with setbacks. "None of them were able to do it alone," Tough said.
Even as he talked about a once-troubled young woman making her way through college, he acknowledged the sadness of looking honestly at the lives of struggling children. "They just can seem so rare and random, these success stories," he said.
"I hope this research doesn't make us fatalistic," Tough concluded. "I hope it makes us want to help even more."