Grit is Sh!t – It’s Just an Excuse to do Nothing for Struggling Students

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Let’s say you’re out in public and you see a crying child alone in the street.


What would you do?


Would you run up to her and help? Or would you just shrug, mutter some derisive comment about the brat and walk on?


Our public school policymakers want us to do the later. In fact, they have a whole pedagogical justification for ignoring the needs of children.


It’s called “academic tenacity,” a “growth mindset” or “grit.”


And it goes something like this:


That child isn’t learning? If she just worked harder, she would.


It’s the political equivalent of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” applied to the classroom.


And it’s super helpful for politicians reluctant to allocate tax dollars to actually help kids succeed.


The idea and the euphemisms used to describe it were coined by Carol Dweck as early as 1999. It was subsequently popularized by seventh-grade math teacher and psychologist Angela Duckworth.


In the early 2000s, Duckworth realized that IQ wasn’t the only thing separating successful students from those who struggled. There was also the tendency to overcome adversity or not.


Hey, Angela. Darwin called. He wants his Theory of Natural Selection back.


You know Survival of the Fittest was never meant to be prescriptive. As human beings, we’re supposed to be better than mere animals that typically leave the pack’s sick and injured behind to get eaten by predators.


But whatever.


The term “grit,” is defined as a “passion and perseverance for long-term goals,” according to Frontiers in Psychology. And it’s become one of the buzziest of buzzwords in academia.


So much so, that as you’re reading this, standardized test manufacturers are working to develop an assessment to find it in students.


The agencies that administer the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are close to including character assessments as a measure of student performance.


Oh goody!


They foresee a brave new world where multiple-choice tests will determine not just the entire scope of human knowledge but character as well!


But what no one wants to admit is that grit is… well… shit.


It’s just an excuse for a society that refuses to help those most in need.


In our world, there are haves and have-nots. But if we stop there, we ignore how and why this situation came to be.


Who places kids into segregated schools? WE DO.


Who allocates funding based largely on parental income? US.


We set kids up to succeed or fail before they even enter the school system with an economy that rewards the already rich and punishes generational poverty.


Yet when anyone suggests offering help to even the playing field – to make things more fair – a plethora of policy wonks wag their fingers and say, “No way! They did it to themselves.”


It’s typical “blame the victim” pathology to say that some kids get all the love, time and resources they need while others can do without — they just need more “grit” and a “growth mindset.”


Life’s tough. Get over it.


That’s easy for YOU to say! Because it’s the have’s who make the rules, it’s the people at the top who are telling the people at the bottom they’re to blame for their own suffering.


So you forget all the ways society has helped you and yours. YOU deserve all the credit for your successes.


But for those people over there, let’s forget all the ways society has refused to help and instead blame THEM for not overcoming the obstacles (we put) in their path.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying effort counts for nothing. But it’s part of a complicated matrix of nature and nurture.


Our environments shape us, but we have some control over what we do with what we’re given.


Yet as a society, we can’t simply ignore our responsibilities toward others and throw it all on the individual.


Good teachers know how to get the best out of their students. We know that most kids – if given a safe, encouraging environment – can succeed.


The key often is to scaffold that success. Give them something to do that they can actually master. Then give them something slightly more challenging.


You teach them that they have the ability to succeed and success becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – and not the opposite.


However, the teacher – and even the school, itself – can only do so much.


As a society, we need to change the environment in which these kids grow up.


We need to fully fund our public schools to meet the needs of all students. That means more funding, services and opportunities for the underserved than for those who already have the best of everything and don’t need to rely as heavily on the school system for support.


We need wraparound services, counseling, tutoring, after school programs, community schools, jobs programs, continuing education for adults and other services to help heal the trauma of growing up poor in America.


But leaving it all to this magical thing called “grit” is just ignoring our responsibilities to our fellow human beings.


When you see someone suffering, you need to help them – not comfort yourself with excuses for ignoring them.


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32 thoughts on “Grit is Sh!t – It’s Just an Excuse to do Nothing for Struggling Students

  1. I want to pour a tablespoon of sand, grit, in everything Angela Duckworth, the author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, eats and drinks.

    I want to pour sand into every shoe she wears and she can’t take the shoe off and pour it out.

    I want to pour sand into her bed so when she sleeps at night, she is rolling around on a bed of ‘grit’.

    Grit is not a secret to success. Grit is being sold as a magic bean that, if you swallow Duckworth’s sand, will grow a vine that will reach the Moon and a pot of gold hidden there.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t we have to artificially boost her self esteem first and turn her into a narcissist?

        Oh wait, the self esteem movement swept the nation back in the 20th century and the results turned out sort of dismal. Maybe she is a product of the 20th century self esteem movement and is already a narcissist.


      • Self esteem has nothing to do with narcissism. The exact opposite, in fact. When one genuinely feels good about him/herself, there is no need to be arrogant or narcissistic. Narcissism is a defense against feelings of emptiness and worthlessness.


      • Having self esteem does not mean that person is a narcissist but many children that lived through the sefl esteem movement where every child was told they were great and perfect to create artificial self esteem turned out be be narcissists.

        A child that developed natural self esteem by not giving up and learning from his/her failures leading to success and a send of self esteem usually doesn’t lead to narcissism.

        But handing out trophies to everyone and calling everyone a winner so they grow up with self esteem did not work.

        Telling every child that they are great so they grow up with a strong sense of self esteem did not work.

        Pressuring teachers to give every child A’s and B’s so they grow up with a strong sense of artificial self esteem did not work.

        ” How the Self-Esteem Craze Took Over America And why the hype was irresistible.”

        “It wasn’t just schoolkids. During this span, just about everyone, from CEOs to welfare recipients, was told — often by psychologists with serious credentials — that improving their self-esteem could, as The Lovables put it, unlock the gates to more happiness, better performance, and every kind of success imaginable. This was both a personal argument and a political one: The movement, which had its epicenter in California, argued that increasing people’s self-esteem could reduce crime, teen pregnancy, and a host of other social ills — even pollution” …

        “The end result of all this was an increasingly massive cottage industry devoted to self-esteem.” …

        “Nowhere did the craze hit harder than in American schools. And once it did, it produced an endless assortment of colorful classroom interventions.”

        And the self-esteem movement is being repeated with a new label called “GRIT”

        “But if you listen to what’s been going on with the hype over “grit,” you will hear some unfortunate echoes.

        “In recent years, a group of researchers led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Angela Duckworth have claimed that this personality characteristic, which is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” predicts academic — and therefore career and life — success better than just about anything else we can measure.”


      • Right, because, like “grit”, self-esteem can’t be taught or externally forced. It has to come from something genuine – knowing that you are competent and worthy of love and respect (which comes from having been loved and respected). Constantly being told you’re “smart” or “beautiful” or “talented” or whatever, sets up external expectations that the person is afraid they can’t live up to, which leads to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, which is the basis for narcissism.


      • Lloyd: I’m a child of the “self esteem” era everyone denigrates, and I hate myself. Make you feel better?


      • Not every child in the 1970s through the 1980s was a victim of the “self esteem” movement.

        Although the self-esteem movement became a popular fad that swept the nation, not every parent climbed on that train to nowhere.

        But too many did and when I was still teaching I was a victim of those parents that often attacked me and other teachers that awarded grades based on merit and not the fact that the parents wanted their child to be “given” all A’s to boost their self esteem even if the child did nothing, I repeat nothing, to earn that grade.

        Even site administrators were under pressure to boost grades to boost self esteem and teachers that based grades on merit for work done were called into the office and bullied when there were too many complaints from self esteem obsessed helicopter parents.

        The evidence that not all parents were obsessed with false self esteem for their child is the fact that in every class I taught there were students who did the work and earned the graded and did not use their parents to bully teachers to give them the grades they did not earn.


  2. “Grit” is a form of gaslighting, which is a form of emotional abuse.

    I’m not much of a religious person, but sometimes I hope for some form of reincarnation. The ultimate karma would be for Duckworth and Dweck to be re-born as poor kids (preferably kids of color) and have to survive day after day of what the poor in this country endure. And then get told, “well, gee, if only you had more grit….”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. No child ever goes to school hoping to fail. Children go to school everyday hoping they will be able to engage in real learning. Adults fail children. Adults stifle children. Adults blame 5 and 6 year-olds. Adults fail 7 and 8 year-olds because bell curves demand that adults tell most 9 & 10 year-olds they just don’t have what it takes. Kids don’t need grit; they need real learning, not the drivel adults force on them. Say NO! Teach children to say NO when they feel adults insist they fail. When adults call sifting the same thing as learning, just say NO!


  4. I agree with this wholeheartedly: “We need wraparound services, counseling, tutoring, after school programs, community schools, jobs programs, continuing education for adults and other services to help heal the trauma of growing up poor in America.” I just worry that each of these valid needs is being co-opted by those eager to datify every social service, thereby subjecting each child to a lifetime of profiling and predictive analytics. (viz. Social Impact Bonds/Pay for Success) There is NO benign need to collect data surreptitiously from students as they do their school work and receive needed services, none at all.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Grit and perseverance are important qualities and as Duckworth said contribute very much to an individual’s success. That people want to use it to avoid the difficult task of seeking better school funding for schools does not lessen the significance of perseverance in people’s lives.
    Whether the individual is high IQ or possesses other qualities, the person can get lost in school if the environment is poor, and medical, psychological, and other services are not provided for students. We should give every single child the opportunity for the greatest development. Presently that is not the case.
    Some people, maybe policy makers, and other influential people, will see the solution as putting the blame on teachers, of preaching self esteem, or shielding themselves behind ideas such as ‘grit,’ but that is shirking their responsibilities. When a person says ‘Talent if Overrated’ he still recognizes the importance of talent but also acknowledges that other attributes of a person count for much.


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