Update: See this recent Edweek article by Alfie Kohn for one study pointing to why "grit" is misguided !
"It's not so much teaching kids to have grit as it is helping them discover what they're willing to be gritty about."
Here in Charlotte, a group of citizens gather informally to discuss important issues. I was invited to attend their session of the topic of that dreaded buzzword "grit." What follows are my thoughts after the discussion, which I am publishing here to share the conversation and see if we can move our definition forward.
I am not sure grit exists-- what we call grit is either talent, stupidity (ignorance of the odds) , selfishness, greed or endurance. Someone in the group discussion mentioned that the Nazis had grit.
If you search the hashtag "grit" on Twitter, you see a lot of folks posting how strong they or someone else is at sports or academics but I think this is actually just cultivation of talent in many cases. Or talent + endurance in varying measures.
Many folks in the roundtable (myself included) described issues of personal talent and endurance as grit. I think the personalization of the stories proves we all have grit, every one of us, in some areas. That explains the quotation that begins this post.
Grit can be taught by example, but not by instruction. The gentleman next to me touched on that when he said we need to teach the tough stories in African American and Indian history. He reminded me of a study that found that telling children about the failures of great scientists and mathematicians caused kids to get higher scores than another group that was only taught about the accomplishments of those great achievers.
Given the point above, teachers should not only teach the "tough stories" of their curriculum, but also model grit personally, be metacognitive out loud about how they move past setbacks daily as well as in "big life events"(childhood difficulties, academic roadblocks, personal and career challenges) I do this naturally because I am super open: I teach grit by making what is usually hidden visible. Some teachers are afraid to do this because they are afraid of being too human is a sign of weakness. Those teachers are necessary in education, too, because children see them as rocks and like knowing someone so protective, like knowing a superhero. Maybe we adults in children's lives can teach grit both ways, by being larger than life ("my dad never cried", "my mom worked 3 jobs to provide for us") and by being very lifelike ("that grownup looks so together but has overcome the same things I am struggling with so I guess I can rise above, too").
My husband, as an engineer, is really interested in finding precision in words. He came up with this definition of grit:
" Grit is the ability (and willingness) to move past your comfort zone and remain there until you are comfortable." ...to start something and be awful at it (removing talent from the equation) and to endure until you have competence.
Questions remain: is it smart to do this in all areas, would it not be more efficient to focus on a few areas and if so should that be decided by a parent a teacher the student him or her self or some larger social institution?
I'd kind of like to work these words into the definition as well: "bodaciousness" (ignorance, passion) and "mad dog mean" (talent, driven, passionate) from an older gentleman who I was so happy was part of the conversation. What a force of history!
I am interested in what people might say about grit in relation to the woman in this story. Is she weak? A failure? Entitled? Is there grit in this story? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bridget-allen/my-value-autism-feminism_b_4297914.html
Thanks for thinking about this with me.
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Lisa Gurthie is the PD facilitator at Piedmont IB Middle School. She specializes in tech and arts integration, interdisciplinary holistic education, and unschooling school to reconnect academia to real life. One day she will modernize her "about" page. She curates this blog for the professional development convenience of the teachers at Piedmont, but the editorial comments are her own.