Two weeks ago, the Education Issue of the New York Times Magazine featured a story titled: “What if the Secret to Success if Failure?” by Paul Tough.

Tough ventures into the oft discussed “talent vs. hard work” debate, most recently tapped by Malcom Gladwell in Outliers and Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code.

Outliers introduces us to the 10,000 hour rule: No matter your natural talent, to be truly great you need to practice for 10,000 hours at something. The Talent Codetakes that concept to the next level by arguing that not only do you need to practice for 10,000 hours, but you need to practice better than other people who are also putting in the extra hours.

Through conversations with two educational leaders in New York City and Philadelphia, the New York Times’ writer introduces us to the work of professor Angela Duckworth, who ups the ante of practice and better practice with the concept of Grit (defined in her research at the University of Pennsylvania as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”). Tough calls this a special form of self-control.

Unfortunately, if you were to summarize the NYT‘s article simply by the headline, you might assume that failure is the magic bullet to high achievement.

Instead, the research indicates that self-discipline is developed through managing emotions and developing stamina. Failure comes in as a natural by-product of working hard on difficult things (but is not, in and of itself, the end goal).

Where the article gets interesting is when it discusses Duckworth’s research in relation to the larger concept of character — which doesn’t get attention in public schools that are over-focused on standardized testing (unless they are trying to stop bullying) but is part of the mission of most independent (and some charter) schools.

When considering the research on success, Tough argues, the character conversation matters — especially if you are talking about what might best be described as “active” character rather than “moral” character. Examples of active character might be self-control and passion whereas examples of moral character might include honesty and goodness.

Some would argue that our conversations about character have been overly focused on moral character rather than active character — when the research shows that success requires a very healthy dose of the latter.

How school “teach” or nurture character is important and worth further discussion. The Marshall mission statement lists six “core values” for our school — which contain a mix of both moral and active character traits that are essential for success later in life.

I’d highly recommend reading Tough’s article. If you don’t have a subscription to the Times, you might not be able to view the link in the first paragraph of this entry. However, if you go to my Twitter feed, you can access the story from my link there.

If you want to see Duckworth (pictured above) speak about her research, check out her TED talk here.