Gritting My Teeth Over Grit (Bootstrap Theories)

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

On Facebook, I wrote:

My worst enemy isn’t just the system, but what the system does to my students’ self-worth and confidence. The daily fight against belief. Don’t talk to me about grit; talk to me about systems of callousness and the incapacity for love and compassion. Talk to me about students knowing their environment is there to help them rather than them having to be skeptical the whole way through their learning.

Talk to me about the withered sparks and dulled stars dug deep into our celestial selves. Fight me when I’m not trying to extract that from 150 or so adolescents.

I prefer if people just said grit meant that yes, we value hard work and passion, and that’s as far as it goes.

Unfortunately, a handful of people are making tons of money on the idea that 10,000 of fixing your attitude about ideas students may or may not be interested in might close the achievement gap. It’s not that folks like Angela Duckworth, Paul Tough, and Malcolm Gladwell aren’t well-meaning folks. But, as we’ve seen with education professors such as Charlotte Danielson, we too easily trust intention without a thorough inspection of effect.

Grit, like so many of these ed reform ideas, may not be bad on its own. However, what’s been pervasive with ideas of grit is the bootstrap theory from which its derived, meaning “If these people just had grit, we could close the achievement gap” rather than “what does ‘grit’ look like for kids who face systemically oppressive odds?” or even “why is it that those who stereotyped for lack of ‘grit’ already have it for survival while those who don’t have to be taught haven’t actually needed it to survive in our society?” What does it mean for some of the folks I graduated with to have no grit at all, but still graduate from Harvard or Columbia because of their intellect or capacity for schooling? Are we quick to measure grit due to outcome?

Is this at least one of the reasons we attest expertise and heroism to multimillionaires who don’t have much expertise in the fields they have undue influence upon?

Perhaps. But the grit I’m dealing with daily is visible through not letting my students fail off a few missed assignments, pushing them to complete it, even if it means I’m spending that extra hour after school grading that work. By some measures, I had plenty of grit to make it to where I am today. I’m just reluctant to embrace such a thing. With the vast amount of grit I might have displayed, I probably can’t measure the bundles of fortune sent my way.