Does Grit Matter?

The deepest conversations I have with my Harold Martin School colleagues revolve around helping children be successful. The complexity level of many students is stunning and therefore it takes a much deeper level of professional collaboration and parental partnership then ever before in our role as educators. The words anxiety, depression, autism, and opposition are part of our vernacular on a daily basis.

Into this conversation arrives the theory of grit, perhaps espoused best by Angela Lee Duckworth, an American psychologist and consultant who has also spent time in the classroom. Her TED Talk has been seen nearly a million and half times, and it is a compelling case for a simple concept that what makes a person successful is hard work and determination.

Conversely, we have an argument from James Delisle, a retired professor of education at Kent State University and also the author of the book Dumbing Down America: The War on Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (Prufrock Press, 2014). In a recent article in Education Today Why I’m Tired of “Grit”, Delisle immediately captures my interest with a story of two Liverpool Bands – The Beatles and an scarcely known group named Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Both bands playedthe same German club for months with only one emerging as a legend and the other with no charting singles and a sparse but interesting Wikipedia entry.

Why did one succeed and the other fail? Delisle surmises that it wasn’t hard work and grit that produced success for the Fab Four but rather musical genius that was enhanced by practice…not determined by it. I suspect that Delisle is primarily motivated by anger for those who ignore the best and brightest. Just check out the aggressive title of his book.

We do want simple answers to our quandaries. The urgent conversations I have with teachers, counselors, reading and math specialists, instructional assistants, parents, therapists, and outside consultants would be more easily solved by a single algorithm or flow chart with a simple conclusion. The reality is that it all matters. Are some students graced with particular talents that others don’t possess? Of course, but we know that without perseverance, goals aren’t met and the world isn’t changed. Do we spend a larger percentage of our time assisting those students with disabilities? Certainly, but the reality is that they need more attention to reach “grade level” than those students that are developing typically.

We also have to give all students what they need. The complexity of our student population cannot allow us to instructionally ignore those who are blessed enough with all of the advantages in life nor those who scream for our attention. It is a lofty but worthy goal to promote the vision to include all in our charge.

As educational leaders, we must work tirelessly, for our own grit is essential to get the job done.

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