There has been much discussion in the blogosphere and elsewhere about the importance of “grit.” Some of this started with the publication of Paul Tough’s book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiousity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” which argued that those characteristics are crucial to succeeding in adverse circumstances and that they can be taught. It continued with the award of a MacArthur to Angela Duckworth, who studies grit, and in recent days it heated up when Lauren Anderson insisted that the whole idea of “grit” was to shift responsibility to children for their terrible life circumstances instead of talking about structural inequality in society.


Now, I confess, there is a part of me that finds this all passing strange. Having grown up in a different era, I recall that in school we were regularly bombarded with stories about heroism, about the people who showed grace under fire, about the soldiers who threw themselves on a live grenade to save their buddies, about the importance of character. History was told as a tale of people with grit and character. And, of course, all the movies from Hollywood were morality tales of grit and character. The good guys–the ones with grit–always won, or at least had a heroic death. So, the sudden interest in grit and character seems a bit weird. Like, what else is new?


What is new is the idea that we might have classes in grit. When I hear “grit,” I think “grits.” I like grits. Or I think about sandpaper. Or the grit that gets into the gears so they don’t work. But let’s be serious. When I was in D.C. a few weeks ago, someone told me he had gone to a high-level meeting between the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to determine whether there was a metric for “grit.” He asked me–this at a public meeting at the AFT headquarters, where I was discussing my latest book–what I thought about the idea of measuring grit. It was the end of a long day, I was tired, and I didn’t choose my words carefully. I said, “It makes me want to throw up.” I mean, really, will we ever have people at the Department of Education who know or care about education, you know, like the arts and philosophy and history and civics and loving what you read and what you do, not just measuring stuff?


I am happy to say that Peter Greene, who is both a high school teacher and a part-time columnist for his local newspaper in Pennsylvania, has developed a way to measure grit. Yes, he has invented the Institute of Grittology, where “we’re committed to helping monetize the work of our research partners, The Research Institute for the Study of Obvious Conclusions (“Working hard to recycle conventional wisdom as proprietary programing”).”


Yes, there are ways to measure grit, Greene says, and the good news is that it can be done with multiple-choice questions. Read on.