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The Limits of “Grit” - The New Yorker
"For children, the situation has grown worse as we’ve slackened our efforts to fight poverty. In 1966, when Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty initiatives were a major national priority, the poverty rate among American children was eighteen per cent. Now it is twenty-two per cent. If we suffer from a grit deficiency in this country, it shows up in our unwillingness to face what is obviously true—that poverty is the real cause of failing schools.

In this context, grit appears as a new hope. As the federal programs stalled, psychologists, neuroscientists, pediatricians, education reformers, and journalists began looking at the lives of children in a different way. Their central finding: non-cognitive skills play just as great a role as talent and native intelligence (I.Q.) in the academic and social success of children, and maybe even a greater role. In brief, we are obsessed with talent, but we should also be obsessed with effort. Duckworth is both benefitting from this line of thought and expanding it herself. The finding about non-cognitive skills is being treated as a revelation, and maybe it should be; among other things, it opens possible avenues for action. Could cultivating grit and other character traits be the cure, the silver bullet that ends low performance?"



"Now, there’s something very odd about this list. There’s nothing in it about honesty or courage; nothing about integrity, kindliness, responsibility for others. The list is innocent of ethics, any notion of moral development, any mention of the behaviors by which character has traditionally been marked. Levin, Randolph, and Duckworth would seem to be preparing children for personal success only—doing well at school, getting into college, getting a job, especially a corporate job where such docility as is suggested by these approved traits (gratitude?) would be much appreciated by managers. Putting it politically, the “character” inculcated in students by Levin, Randolph, and Duckworth is perfectly suited to producing corporate drones in a capitalist economy. Putting it morally and existentially, the list is timid and empty. The creativity and wildness that were once our grace to imagine as part of human existence would be extinguished by strict adherence to these instrumentalist guidelines."



"Not just Duckworth’s research but the entire process feels tautological: we will decide what elements of “character” are essential to success, and we will inculcate these attributes in children, measuring and grading the children accordingly, and shutting down, as collateral damage, many other attributes of character and many children as well. Among other things, we will give up the sentimental notion that one of the cardinal functions of education is to bring out the individual nature of every child.

Can so narrow an ideal of character flourish in a society as abundantly and variously gifted as our own? Duckworth’s view of life is devoted exclusively to doing, at the expense of being. She seems indifferent to originality or creativity or even simple thoughtfulness. We must all gear up, for grit is a cause, an imp of force. “At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.” Through much of “Grit,” she gives the impression that quitting any activity before achieving mastery is a cop-out. (“How many of us vow to knit sweaters for all our friends but only manage half a sleeve before putting down the needles? Ditto for home vegetable gardens, compost bins, and diets.”) But what is the value of these projects? Surely some things are more worth pursuing than others. If grit mania really flowers, one can imagine a mass of grimly determined people exhausting themselves and everyone around them with obsessional devotion to semi-worthless tasks—a race of American squares, anxious, compulsive, and constrained. They can never try hard enough.

Duckworth’s single-mindedness could pose something of a danger to the literal-minded. Young people who stick to their obsessions could wind up out on a limb, without a market for their skills. Spelling ability is nice, if somewhat less useful than, say, the ability to make a mixed drink—a Negroni, a Tom Collins. But what do you do with it? Are the thirteen-year-old champion spellers going to go through life spelling out difficult words to astonished listeners? I realize, of course, that persistence in childhood may pay off years later in some unrelated activity. But I’m an owlish enough parent to insist that the champion spellers might have spent their time reading something good—or interacting with other kids. And what if a child has only moderate talent for her particular passion? Mike Egan, a former member of the United States Marine Band, wrote a letter to the Times Book Review in response to Judith Shulevitz’s review of Duckworth’s book. “Anyone who would tell a child that the only thing standing between him or her and world-class achievement is sufficient work,” Egan wrote, “ought to be jailed for child abuse.”

Duckworth not only ignores the actual market for skills and talents, she barely acknowledges that success has more than a casual relation to family income. After all, few of us can stick to a passion year after year that doesn’t pay off—not without serious support. Speaking for myself, the most important element in my social capital as an upper-middle-class New York guy was, indeed, capital—my parents carried me for a number of years as I fumbled my way to a career as a journalist and critic. Did I have grit? I suppose so, but their support made persistence possible.

After many examples of success, Duckworth announces a theory: “Talent x effort = skill. Skill x effort = achievement.” It’s hardly E=mc2. It’s hardly a theory at all—it’s more like a pop way of formalizing commonplace observation and single-mindedness. Compare Duckworth’s book in this respect with Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers.” Gladwell also traced the backgrounds of extraordinarily accomplished people—the computer geniuses Bill Gates and Bill Joy, business tycoons, top lawyers in New York, and so on. And Gladwell discovered that, yes, his world-beaters devoted years to learning and to practice: ten thousand hours, he says, is the rough amount of time it takes for talented people to become masters.

Yet, if perseverance is central to Gladwell’s outliers, it’s hardly the sole reason for their success. Family background, opportunity, culture, landing at the right place at the right time, the over-all state of the economy—all these elements, operating at once, allow some talented people to do much better than other talented people. Gladwell provides the history and context of successful lives. Duckworth—indifferent to class, race, history, society, culture—strips success of its human reality, and her single-minded theory may explain very little. Is there any good football team, for instance, that doesn’t believe in endless practice, endurance, overcoming pain and exhaustion? All professional football teams train hard, so grit can’t be the necessary explanation for the Seahawks’ success. Pete Carroll and his coaches must be bringing other qualities, other strategies, to the field. Observing those special qualities is where actual understanding might begin."
grit  2016  angeladuckworth  race  class  luck  perseverance  daviddenby  education  mastery  practice  kipp  character  classism  elitism  obsessions  malcolmgladwell  serendipity  mikeegan  judithshulevitz  capital  privilege  success  effort  talent  skill  achievement  history  culture  society  edreform  nep  pisa  testing  standardizedtesting  nclb  rttt  socialscience  paultough  children  schools  poverty  eq  neuroscience  jackshonkoff  martinseligman  learnedoptimism  depression  pessimism  optimism  davelevin  dominicrandolph  honesty  courage  integrity  kindliness  kindness  samuelabrams 
june 2016 by robertogreco
SpeEdChange: Paul Tough v. Peter Høeg - or - the Advantages and Limits of "Research"
[Part 2 now here: http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2014/01/grit-part-2-is-slack-what-kids-need.html ]
[And from Josie Holford: http://www.josieholford.com/grit-hits-the-fan/ ]
[Huge discussion with Paul Tough: http://learningpond.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/does-grit-need-deeper-discussion/ ]
[Part 3: http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2014/01/grit-part-3-is-it-abundance-of.html ]
[And more: http://atthechalkface.com/2014/01/29/an-open-apology-with-explanations-math-behaviorism-and-grit/
Part 4: http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2014/02/grit-part-4-abundance-authenticity-and.html
Paul Gow: http://notyourfathersschool.blogspot.com/2014/02/in-which-i-confess-to-lacking-grit.html
Laura Deisley http://growinggoodschools.blogspot.com/2014/01/grit-or-slack-are-we-asking-right.html?showComment=1391262821367#c343857328100931918
Mike Rose: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/06/the-misguided-effort-to-teach-character/
"Summarizing Grit: The Abundance Narratives" (Ira includes a collection of links to additional posts, including mant of those above): http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2014/02/summarizing-grit-abundance-narratives.html ]

"Mostly, it's an important book because Tough has written a book which might begin to persuade his The New York Times social class, the wealthy, powerful people who set national and international agendas, that their education agenda of the past 30 years has been wrong. I cannot do that, and my writing cannot do that, because "evidence" of a single specific form is the only thing which this group responds to. And Paul Tough has assembled that form of information admirably, largely repudiating all that he has - and much of what has - written about education before. That really matters.

But it is a dangerous book because Tough continues to look for simple answers which will make life comfortable for his social class. It is a dangerous book because it never really asks the tough questions. It is a dangerous book because it holds out those old New England Calvinist ideals - grit and hard work - as the "by your own bootstraps" way to the top - as the path for the poor without ever really acknowledging that the rich need none of that.

Principally it is a dangerous book because, through the use of only stories selected by the researchers Tough fawns over, it implies a series of essential untruths about those who grow up along America's socio-economic, learning, and behavioral borderlines. It is not a dangerous book, however, for the reasons suggested by "the usual suspects" - E.D. Hirsch, Daniel Willingham, and Peter Meyer. "Yet it is hard to argue from recent reform efforts that the aim has been to increase the “information we can stuff into her brain in the first few years," Hirsch laughably pronounces, proving once again that he has actually never seen a public school. The danger in the book is not Tough's correct demolition of the "cognitive hypothesis" - the idea that schools have been focusing on Googlable information instead of life long learning competencies - but his lack of art in understanding children born differently from himself.

But that missing art, that missing empathy, that missing doubt, where do we go to reach for that? And why is that important?"



"That fact: that quantifiable research can only tell you about what you already know, is a critical problem for people of Paul Tough's class, people with Data Over Acceptance Disorder. And its a disaster in education - block real change from ever being considered "What Works" by those in power. And so we get someone like David Coleman, "architect of the Common Core," making this ridiculous - if entertainingly profane - statement:
"Do you know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?…It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with these two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a sh** about what you feel or think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is a rare working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood."

Coleman, a life spent fully immersed in nothing but prior knowledge, cannot understand the power of either personal experience or the imagination. He believes that the best storytelling is that which is endlessly repeated until it is "normed." But the best storytelling is not what Paul Tough writes, or what David Coleman tests - rather - it begins with the art of seeing what few others can.

Thus, in Tough's chapters 11 and 12, his researchers search their known world among children they do not know at all - and that is a problem for the story Tough wants to tell. First, he tells us that kids in a Chicago juvenile detention facility have much smaller vocabularies than other students, but we have no way of knowing whether that is true or not. The vocabularies of the jailed teens was not measured, instead they were asked about white middle class vocabulary. I could easily devise a test based on South Side Chicago street vocabulary that middle class AP students would fail, but there just isn't any validity in either assessment. Then Tough writes about how children with less "attentive" mothers were more likely to engage in disruptive activities in classrooms - but again - we do not have any idea what "disruption" means in this context. We might guess the behavior standard being sought is that used by KIPP, sitting still, staring straight ahead, and shutting up. But if I looked at St. Ann's School in Brooklyn Heights, I might find that the wealthy children of highly attentive parents would be acting a lot like Tough's troubled kids - a great deal of movement, distraction, talking out of turn, leaving the classroom, staring out the window... In fact, later in the book, Tough himself acknowledges as much, but that pesky Data Over Acceptance Disorder prevents him from understanding his own experience, he's stuck in David Coleman's world of non-imagination."



"There is this scene in Borderliners, in it the young narrator Peter describes exactly what he needs. He

tells the story of the orphanage he was in, and how you only got 30 seconds of hot water in the shower, and then had to move to the cold. But his friend Oscar Humlum stays under the cold for minutes, stopping the line, leaving Peter in the comfort of the hot water stream. Humlum says nothing then, needs to say nothing, offers neither praise nor sympathy. Rather, he just gives a moment of peace, and for Peter, this is mythic.

Because that is what "we" need, Mr. Tough. That is what we've always needed. Acceptance, belief, a few moments of peace, and maybe - evidence that "we" are worth sacrificing for. Not the kind of "work sacrifice" KIPP expects from their teachers, not the paid sacrifice of social workers, not even the charity sacrifice of volunteers, but the kind of deep personal sacrifice which suggests real care.

It is that which will give "us" both a chance to breath and believe in ourselves. And in that pause we may find a path."

[Grateful for this after seeing these:
http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2012/09/26/e-d-hirsch-on-paul-toughs-how-children-succeed/
http://www.danielwillingham.com/1/post/2013/10/how-children-succeed.html
http://educationnext.org/paul-tough%E2%80%99s-grit-hypothesis-doesn%E2%80%99t-help-poor-kids/ ]
irasocol  grit  paultough  children  learning  education  poverty  allostaticload  stress  kipp  davelevin  borderliners  technology  quantification  questionframing  edhirsch  danielwillingham  petermeyer  2013  measurement  science  elitism  disconnect  cognitivetheory  cleocherryholmes  howchildrenlearn  howwelearn  peterhøeg  josieholford  slack  petergow  lauradeisley  relationships  shrequest1 
december 2013 by robertogreco

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