Friday, February 12, 2016

The Value of Grit

One thing I love about Twitter is how it spurs my thinking.  Sometimes I agree with a post, sometimes I don't, and sometimes I'm not sure.  My  friend and colleague @Mr_Braden recently tweeted an article from Education Week called, "Why I'm Tired of 'Grit.'"  The author basically posited the theory that grit is not all it's cracked up to be and that it can only get you so far. James Delisle, the author of the article, says that the concept of grit offers a simplistic solution to student and personal achievement.  He details several other reasons why people might fail, such as lack of interest or the impact of life circumstances.  He says that people who espouse the role of grit in achievement are turning a blind eye to role that genetics and natural talent play in whether or not one succeeds.  He goes on to say that grit "attempts to equate unequals as equals."  He opines that there are those who will succeed because of their great gifts, talents, intelligence, and so on and that others may try as they will but they will not be able to reach the same heights as, say, an Einstein in Science or a Federer in Tennis.

I want to approach grit in a different way.  I'm a literacy person, pure and simple.  I love words, quotations, books, poetry and crossword puzzles.  Numbers, I don't love.  I find them necessary to conduct business in this life, but I'll never enjoy doing a Sudoku puzzle!  I could apply myself to advanced trigonometry with all the grit I could muster, but it's unlikely I would be able to master the content.  I just don't have a strong number sense (closed mindset, perhaps) and I have to struggle to make those connections.  So I agree with Mr. Delisle in saying that grit will not level that playing field between me and someone who is naturally analytical and mathematical. 

So what's the value of grit?  For me, it is like this.  Grit is the power that propels me forward and causes me to be able to power on when things are really tough.  I am blessed to be a happy, positive person.  I am not easily depressed.  I don't tend toward negativity and cynicism.  But let's face it - we all have those times where we think about selling all our worldly possessions and taking a slow boat to anywhere.  Grit is that intangible thing in us that says, "Come on, try again."  That's what we're trying to help children see.  No one is deceived into thinking that every student will achieve at the same level by the sheer power of grit.  That's not the point. Teaching children to have grit is a priceless tool they will need to use their entire lives.  Who needs grit?  

1. The third grader who gets herself up and dressed, feeds herself and her siblings, and gets everyone on bus on time because the adults in her life can't or won't.
2. The little boy whose mom has mental health issues and on any given night he might be sleeping God knows where because his mom can't hold down a job and care for him.
3. The eight year old boy who came to my class for his reading group, but instead all he could do was cry because his father had died the week before.  
4. The teacher who is raising her children on her own and is struggling to stay on top of the demands of her job, her adolescent daughter, and life in general.
5. The fifth grader who has no legs and walks with crutches, but wouldn't let anyone help on the trails at environmental camp because he wanted to do what the other kids were doing.
6. The parents who are working two and three jobs to keep food on the table and keep getting hit over and over with bills they can't pay.

I could go on and on about who needs grit, but I think you get the idea.  Grit is not about leveling the academic playing field so all children feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and never have to struggle.  Quite the contrary, grit is the deep and enduring knowledge that I'm only in a season and seasons will change.  They always do.  Many years ago I ran across a quote that every now and then resurfaces, seemingly right when I need it.  If we don't teach our students how to endure in the tough times, we haven't served them well.  Power on, friends.  

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer. - Albert Camus