Archives for category: Grit

A reader who signs in as “kindergarteninterlude” posted the following comment in the discussion about “growth mindset”:

The year I retire, I will have a tee-shirt made. On the front will be the word- big and bold- “RIGOR”, with the NO Symbol on top (a circle and diagonal line through it).

On the back will be the word data with the same NO symbol on top of it.

I’d love to work in “growth mindset “. What a bunch of garbage.

Hopefully my tee-shirt will be a conversation starter and I will be happy to talk to people about my experiences in the kindergarten classroom.

I will explain that rigor is developmentally inappropriate and the desperate attempt to shove rigor into the heart and mind of kindergartners (and every other grade level student) can only hurt them.

As for data- the obsession is destructive on so many levels. What’s worse, it’s meaningless.

Diane, why does this insanity persist? Why are true best practices and proven methods of success in education completely dismissed? I have been shaking my head (and my fist) for 20 years. Nothing changes. It’s just getting worse. What will it ever take to shift this train wreck that is education?

Robert Hubbell is a wonderful, sensible blogger. I enjoy reading his posts. Here is one that ties together our current “gloom and doom” about the politics at home with the defiance and courage of Ukrainians who are standing up to a brutal invasion.

He wrote:

The media doomsday machine is in overdrive.

Readers are again filling my inbox with stories that predict disaster for Democrats in the midterms. All I can say is that we should be thankful that the journalists declaring defeat are not in charge of defending Ukraine. The current narrative is that the only issue that matters to voters is the economy. Of course, except for inflation, the economy is strong—a fact universally ignored by the media. But in the “short-attention-span” media, the criminalization of abortion is a story that has run its course and is baked into the outcome of the midterms. Such a view denigrates the role of voters in the political process and ignores the possibility that the attitudes of voters can change over the course of an election.

So, let’s reset where we are at this moment in time. Most primaries for midterms have not yet occurred, so Democrats don’t know who they will be facing. But we have strong signals that Republican candidates will be more extreme, less qualified, and more vulnerable than the GOP had hoped. The surge of activism that should follow the criminalization of abortion is just getting off the ground. The final opinion was expected in late June; the leak in early May caught many grass-roots groups by surprise. Republicans and the mainstream media want to create a narrative that says, “Nothing to see here, move along. The fight over abortion won’t motivate Democrats or persuadable Independents.”

I believe the above narrative badly mis-reads what is about to happen. We are no longer arguing over abstract legal principles. We are facing a situation in which abortion will be a crime, and teenage girls raped by family members will be ordered by the state to bear children forced on them by violent attackers. The narrative ignores that a strong majority of Americans supported the Roe / Casey paradigm for balancing individual liberty and societal interests. And it ignores the fact abortion is far more common than many believe. Per the NYTimes, “25 percent of women will have an abortion by the end of their childbearing years.” Telling those women, even retroactively, that they are “felons” or “criminals” will surely have some effect on their view of their Republican accusers.

So, what should we do? First, we need an attitude adjustment. If you see a story predicting disaster, you must summon the fighting spirit to say that pundits and “conventional wisdom” do not control your actions or your destiny. The fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people is instructive. The “conventional wisdom” predicted their defeat in two weeks. Our first clue that the Ukrainians would not allow conventional wisdom to determine their destiny was Zelensky’s statement, “I need ammunition, I don’t need a ride.” The second indication came from the defenders of Snake Island who were ordered by a “Russian warship” to “surrender” before being shelled. The reply, “Russian warship, go f**k yourself” will live in legend. [Note: The “warship” in question was later sunk by Ukrainian missiles.]

We all need a bit of the “in-your-face” confidence to tell the doomsayers what they can do with their predictions. In that regard, I recommend the video in a tweet by MeidasTouch, “Hey, Republican Party. Go f—k yourselves.” Fair warning—the video includes about a dozen profanities, which are usually unproductive and distracting. But the sentiment expressed in the video captures the fighting spirit that all Democrats need at this moment. Republicans are busy telling the mainstream media that the 2022 midterms are over and that Democrats should surrender. As the Ukrainian defenders on Snake Island said, “Russian warship, . . . .”

In case you wondered, Peter Greene is not a fan of SEL (social-emotional learning). Just because the loathsome Florida Governor Ron DeSantis doesn’t like it is no reason to embrace it. He feels the way about SEL that I always felt about character education. Character education should not be a course or a program; it should implicitly permeate everything you do in teaching honesty, integrity. responsibility, and helpfulness. It must be modeled, expected, reinforced by example, not turned into lessons.

Greene writes:

Social and Emotional Learning is the new target of the GOP attempt to set multiple education brushfires in hopes of stampeding voters towards a Republican victory (as well as one more way for the authoritarian crowd to hammer home their central point of “Trust nobody except Beloved Leader”). The attacks range from overblown to intellectually dishonest to giant piles of bovine fecal matter to the odious, evil charges that the teaching profession is simply a haven for groomers.

And there is irony in these attacks from the right, because SEL is just the latest packaging of what we used to call “soft skills,” and some of the greatest push for getting these into schools has come from the business community (“Hey schools! Fix my meat widgets so they communicate and cooperate better!!”)

All that said, I’m not going to be the one to defend SEL in the classroom.

Perhaps I should say “formal SEL instruction.” SEL has always been in the classroom and always will be, because it’s impossible for an adult teacher to lead a roomful of young humans through learning and education and all the bumps and interactions that come by putting so many human beings in one room–well, you can’t navigate any of that without including SEL. “Don’t interrupt” and “keep your hands to yourself” and every group project ever are part SEL. Everything a teacher imparts, directly or indirectly, about how to work with, talk to, and get along with other humans is SEL. 95% of all the “this teacher changed my life” stories are about SEL and not actual subject content. So it is impossible to remove SEL from a classroom.

But formal SEL is another thing.

As soon as we try to formalize SEL instruction, we run into all sorts of problems. Are we doing it to help people get a better job and better grades or to be a better human being? And if it’s the latter, as it should be, who the heck is going to define what a better human being looks like? And is there just one definition? And if not (as is true), then exactly what sort of assessment are we going to use to measure the “effectiveness” of the program or the social and emotional learnedness of the students? And can you promise me that you aren’t going to record all that data to build some sort of digital social and emotional swellness file on each student? Also, will the program require every teacher to have a trained counselor level of expertise? Every single one of these questions ought to stop the march toward formalized SEL instruction dead in its tracks. But it hasn’t-not any of the times SEL, under various monikers has come trundling down the tracks…

If you spend an hour a week talking about how to be a decent person, and the rest of the week behaving like a lousy person, you’re wasting that hour. And if you spend the week being decent people, what do you need that hour of class for?

And, I would add now, you don’t model character for young humans by engaging in lying and slander to score political points. If 2022 is, as some activists are promising, the year that SEL takes over for CRT as the object of panic du jour, good luck to us all. But just because you call out the throwing of poo, that doesn’t mean you have to support the thing the poo’s being thrown.

We agree.

Dan Rather has a terrific blog that he writes with Elliott Kirschner, where he relies on his long experience to put the current world into perspective.

In this post, he tells a story of a runner who injured his leg in the middle of a race but refused to give up.

Please watch the video. It’s an inspiring story.

Mike Rose opined a few years back about “grit” and its limitations.

This is one of those articles that is never dated.

Rose, one of my favorite authors, writes:


In a nutshell, I worry about the limited success of past attempts at character education and the danger in our pendulum-swing society that we will shift our attention from improving subject matter instruction. I also question the easy distinctions made between “cognitive” and “non-cognitive” skills. And I fear that we will sacrifice policies aimed at reducing poverty for interventions to change the way poor people see the world.

In this post, I would like to further explore these concerns—and a few new ones—by focusing on “grit,” for it has so captured the fancy of our policy makers, administrators, and opinion-makers….

Let me repeat here what I’ve written in every other commentary on grit. Of course, perseverance is an important characteristic. I cherish it in my friends and my students.

But at certain ages and certain times in our lives, exploration and testing new waters can also contribute to one’s development and achievement. Knowing when something is not working is important as well. Perseverance and determination as represented in the grit questionnaires could suggest a lack of flexibility, tunnel vision, an inability to learn from mistakes.

Again, my point is not to dismiss perseverance but to suggest that perseverance, or grit, or any quality works in tandem with other qualities in the well-functioning and ethical person. By focusing so heavily on grit, character education in some settings has been virtually reduced to a single quality, and probably not the best quality in the content of character. The items in the grit instruments could describe the brilliant surgeon who is a distant and absent parent, or, for that fact, the smart, ambitious, amoral people who triggered the Great Recession. (Macbeth with his “vaulting ambition” would score quite high on grit.) Education in America has to be about more than producing driven super-achievers. For that fact, a discussion of what we mean by “achievement” is long overdue.

But, of course, a good deal of the discussion of grit doesn’t really involve all students. Regardless of disclaimers, the primary audience for our era’s character education is poor kids. As I and a host of others have written, a focus on individual characteristics of low-income children can take our attention away from the structural inequalities they face. Some proponents of character education have pretty much said that an infusion of grit will achieve what social and economic interventions cannot.

Can I make a recommendation? Along with the grit survey, let us give another survey and see what the relationship is between the scores. I’m not sure what to call this new survey, but it would provide a measure of adversity, of impediments to persistence, concentration, and the like. It, too, would use a five-point response scale: “very much like me” to “not much like me.” Its items would include:

  • I always have bus fare to get to school.
  • I hear my parents talking about not having enough money for the rent.
  • Whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor.
  • We always have enough food in our home.
  • I worry about getting to school safely.
  • There are times when I have to stay home to care for younger brothers or sisters.
  • My school has honors and Advanced Placement classes.
  • I have at least one teacher who cares about me.

My guess is that higher impediment scores would be linked to lower scores on the grit survey. I realize that what grit advocates want is to help young people better cope with such hardship. Anyone who has worked seriously with kids in tough circumstances spends a lot of time providing support and advice, and if grit interventions can provide an additional resource, great. But if as a society we are not also working to improve the educational and economic realities these young people face, then we are engaging in a cruel hoax, building aspiration and determination for a world that will not fulfill either…

Rose notes that the people Angela Duckworth studied were highly successful.

The foundational grit research primarily involved populations of elite high achievers—Ivy League students, West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants—and people responding to a Positive Psychology website based at the University of Pennsylvania. It is from the latter population that the researchers got a wider range of ages and data on employment history…

It is hard to finish what you begin when food and housing are unstable, or when you have three or four teachers in a given year, or when there are few people around who are able to guide and direct you. It is equally hard to pursue a career with consistency when the jobs available to you are low-wage, short-term and vulnerable, and have few if any benefits or protections. This certainly doesn’t mean that people who are poor lack determination and resolve. Some of the poor people I knew growing up or work with today possess off-the-charts determination to survive, put food on the table, care for their kids. But they wouldn’t necessarily score high on the grit scale.

This is a very thoughtful article. I hope you will read it in full.

Reader C.H. Rubinstein eases into the debate about GRIT.

Oy, where have we heard this song & dance before?

Grit is something your mom used to yell about, such as when you were playing outside,

“Wipe your feet before you come in the house, or take your shoes off! Don’t get that grit all over my kitchen floor!”

Or, as my sister would presently yell, “Who got the sink all grit-ty?! Clean it up NOW!!”

The Boston Globe published this opinion piece questioning the validity of concepts like grit and resilience. 

Author Alissa Quart interviews Christine White, a woman who grew up in extreme poverty yet managed to build a successful career helping people who struggled as she did. But not by coaching them to have more “grit” and “resilience.”

Christine White, writes Quart, has written

a number of posts on on her nonprofit’s blog questioning this resilience refrain. She believes that when “we are obsessing about resilience it obscures the fundamental issues that people have, like a lack of privilege or a history of trauma.” When “resilience” is applied to at-risk kids, says White, it implies “the solutions reside within an individual and not their context: ‘resilience’ skews conversations away from equity.” The assumption is that having “character” will help traumatized people flourish — and if they don’t flourish, there is an implied lack of character.

“Ninety percent of resilience conversations would be better if the focus was, instead, on racial and economic inequities,” she wrote in correspondence with me.

But “resilience” and “grittiness” have become ubiquitous honorifics — likely to come out of the mouths of not only teachers but also therapists, urban planners, businessmen, and policymakers, all praising individual pluck.

Thanks to Angela Duckworth’s bestseller of the same name, “grit” is now a part of American school life: In New Hampshire, for instance, some grammar school students are taught “grit skills” by teachers who follow a “grit curriculum.” One grit lesson includes interviewing a neighbor, for example, who has shown grit and creating that person’s “perseverance walk,” outlining how they achieved their goals.

The terms have even spawned an industry of books, apps, and gurus:

There is a now even a grit and resilience industry.

“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and responsibility to pick yourself up,” says Mary Holloway, a “resilience coach” and the creator of the “Boom Bounce Wow Resilience Method.” There are also dozens of self-help books promising to make you more resilient or more gritty, including one that promises to create resilience with the subtitle “How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness.” One of the biggest resilience bestsellers is “Option B” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Apps have also gotten into the resilience and positive psychology game, with names such as ResilientMe and Happify. And there is even a “resilience planner” bearing the legend “Stay Resilient 2019,” which is currently sold out…

There’s also a growing — though much smaller — academic backlash to the term “resilience.” Critics note the focus on “resilience” can ignore the structural gaps of our economy, for example. Should we really be building personal capacities to triumph over, say, the “adversity” that is the current scarcity of public funding for education?

Call grit and resilience what they are: a substitute for the structural and financial changes that give people genuine opportunity to get ahead.

These terms are an effort to substitute “the power of positive thinking” for equity.



Nancy Bailey opened her mail and saw that Angela Duckworth was on the cover of the handout for Costco Connection, touting the virtues of grit and why every child needs it.

I had somehow hoped we had passed through the “grit” phase and moved on to something else. Probably, the fact that it is featured on the cover of the Costco flyer means that it is already passé.

Duckworth has has list:

Her grit goals for children include the following:

I am a hard worker.
Setbacks don’t discourage me.
I finish whatever I begin.
I don’t give up easily.
I am diligent.
I will never give up.
Numbers 3 and 6 might especially give us pause.

Nancy rightly notes that teachers have been instilling “grit” since time immemorial.

For starters, grit is a repackaged idea. If you’ve read “The Little Engine Who Could” by Watty Piper to your child, you’ve taught them to try their best. Many children’s books incorporate the idea of endurance. It’s a timeless virtue.

Teaching character traits like perseverance through children’s literature seems more meaningful, and enjoyable, than browbeating students to carry through on every task to prove their stamina.

Lots of good ideas here. Nancy warns about the “strictness” imposed by KIPP-style no-excuses.

It’s important to remember, that with grit and high-stakes standards, including Common Core, children are not always setting their own goals. They aren’t dreaming of passing tests. They want to do well on them, or they fear them, because it’s what adults tell them to do. They’re being set up to please adults.

That’s a huge problem with grit and what makes it disingenuous.

Paul Thomas considers some of the research verities that have recently been exploded, like “the marshmallow test,” “growth mindset,” and “the word gap.”

He might have added “grit” to the list of recently debunked nostrums. Christine Yeh of the University of San Francisco wrote a terrific piece in Education Week last year titled “Forget Grit. Focus on Inequality.” She is right, of course. If a child is hungry, grit won’t fill her tummy. If she is hungry and homeless, grit doesn’t change the objective facts of her life.

He writes:

“It may well be true that everything you know is wrong, but that doesn’t mean it must stay that way. Good intentions and missionary zeal must be replaced by greater philosophical awareness and the sort of skepticism a critical lens provides.

“This is not about fatalism—giving up on research—but about finding a better way forward, one that rejects programs and blanket ideologies and keeps our focus on students and learning along with the promises of formal schooling as a path to equity and justice, not test scores and compliant students.”

It takes courage to think for yourself, especially in a culture that values compliance and conformity.

Congratulations to Carol Dweck of Stanford University for winning the first annual Yidan Prize, which is a prize of $3.9 million. She won for her work on “growth mindset,” which I tended to think was akin to “The Little Engine Who Could,” who climbed a difficult mountain by saying “I think I can, I think I can,” and he did. That was, as I was growing up, the optimistic spirit of the 1940s and 1950s, as seen by a child.

I like what Dweck said in Hong Kong as she received the prize. She told her Chinese hosts to get rid of the “cram culture” that is common in their schools.

From the South China Post:

“Children’s learning should be joyful and focused on understanding and inquiry – rather than the drilling that Hong Kong schools have become known for – a renowned psychologist, recently in the city to receive the world’s biggest education prize, has said.

“Professor Carol Dweck’s remarks come as the city’s government prepares to announce whether a standard test often associated with high-pressure rote learning will continue next year.
Dweck, from Stanford University in the US, was in Hong Kong last week to collect the inaugural Yidan Prize for Education Research, for her groundbreaking research on the power of the “growth mindset”, based on the belief that intelligence is not fixed and can be developed over time, given the right approach.

“The prize was started in 2016 by Charles Chen Yidan, co-founder of mainland tech giant Tencent. It comprises one award for education research and another for education development. Each laureate receives a gold medal and HK$30 million (US$3.9 million)…

“After years of research, Dweck – whose findings have been implemented in countries such as the US, Norway and Peru – found that children with a “fixed mindset” would worry whether they were smart and would succeed in life and stop caring about learning. Those with a “growth mindset”, she found, could joyfully learn and develop their abilities.

“But Dweck noted that the concept was not about telling children to work hard, which is common in Hong Kong, where many parents view academic success as paramount to their children’s future.
“Chinese culture is already telling children to work hard. That’s not growth mindset because they’re working hard for the product, not for the growth or the joy of learning,” she said.

“The professor also warned against “tiger parenting” – referring to demanding parents, particularly in Asian cultures, pushing their children to attain high grades using methods such as relentless drilling.

“She said these students could be extremely anxious, and feel worthless and depressed if they did not succeed at something.

“She said the “growth mindset” should instead be about focusing on understanding, questioning and thinking, and results would follow after that.

“The Hong Kong government is expected to announce in the next two months whether the Primary Three Territory-wide System Assessment will continue next year. Originally designed to enhance learning and teaching by providing the government with data to review policies, the assessment has become associated with a drilling culture in Hong Kong.

“This has led parents and educators to call for the test to be scrapped, ending the pressure it puts on pupils, and for the curriculum to be reviewed as a whole. The government recently began a review of primary and secondary school curriculums.“

Carol Dweck could be a huge force in prodding the authorities in China to renounce the cram culture, and that would benefit the world. She just might help to save the next generation from the Testocracy.

Congratulations, Professor Dweck!