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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
Why Girls Get Better Grades Than Boys Do - The Atlantic
[My tweet: "“Why Girls Get Better Grades Than Boys Do” … Missing: Conscientiousness or deference? Innate or conditioned?"]

"This self-discipline edge for girls carries into middle-school and beyond. In a 2006 landmark study, Martin Seligman and Angela Lee Duckworth found that middle-school girls edge out boys in overall self-discipline. This contributes greatly to their better grades across all subjects. They found that girls are more adept at “reading test instructions before proceeding to the questions,” “paying attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming,” “choosing homework over TV,” and “persisting on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration.” These top cognitive scientists from the University of Pennsylvania also found that girls are apt to start their homework earlier in the day than boys and spend almost double the amount of time completing it. Girls’ grade point averages across all subjects were higher than those of boys, even in basic and advanced math—which, again, are seen as traditional strongholds of boys.

What Drs. Seligman and Duckworth label “self-discipline,” other researchers name “conscientiousness.” Or, a predisposition to plan ahead, set goals, and persist in the face of frustrations and setbacks. Conscientiousness is uniformly considered by social scientists to be an inborn personality trait that is not evenly distributed across all humans. In fact, a host of cross-cultural studies show that females tend to be more conscientious than males. One such study by Lindsay Reddington out of Columbia University even found that female college students are far more likely than males to jot down detailed notes in class, transcribe what professors say more accurately, and remember lecture content better. Arguably, boys’ less developed conscientiousness leaves them at a disadvantage in school settings where grades heavily weight good organizational skills alongside demonstrations of acquired knowledge.

These days, the whole school experience seems to play right into most girls’ strengths—and most boys’ weaknesses. Gone are the days when you could blow off a series of homework assignments throughout the semester but pull through with a respectable grade by cramming for and acing that all-important mid-term exam. Getting good grades today is far more about keeping up with and producing quality homework—not to mention handing it in on time.

Gwen Kenney-Benson, a psychology professor at Allegheny College, a liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania, says that girls succeed over boys in school because they tend to be more mastery-oriented in their schoolwork habits. They are more apt to plan ahead, set academic goals, and put effort into achieving those goals. They also are more likely than boys to feel intrinsically satisfied with the whole enterprise of organizing their work, and more invested in impressing themselves and their teachers with their efforts.

On the whole, boys approach schoolwork differently. They are more performance-oriented. Studying for and taking tests taps into their competitive instincts. For many boys, tests are quests that get their hearts pounding. Doing well on them is a public demonstration of excellence and an occasion for a high-five. In contrast, Kenney-Benson and some fellow academics provide evidence that the stress many girls experience in test situations can artificially lower their performance, giving a false reading of their true abilities. These researchers arrive at the following overarching conclusion: “The testing situation may underestimate girls’ abilities, but the classroom may underestimate boys’ abilities.”

It is easy to for boys to feel alienated in an environment where homework and organization skills account for so much of their grades. But the educational tide may be turning in small ways that give boys more of a fighting chance. An example of this is what occurred several years ago at Ellis Middle School, in Austin, Minnesota. Teachers realized that a sizable chunk of kids who aced tests trundled along each year getting C’s, D’s, and F’s. At the same time, about 10 percent of the students who consistently obtained A’s and B’s did poorly on important tests. Grading policies were revamped and school officials smartly decided to furnish kids with two separate grades each semester. One grade was given for good work habits and citizenship, which they called a “life skills grade.” A “knowledge grade” was given based on average scores across important tests. Tests could be retaken at any point in the semester, provided a student was up to date on homework.

Staff at Ellis Middle School also stopped factoring homework into a kid’s grade. Homework was framed as practice for tests. Incomplete or tardy assignments were noted but didn’t lower a kid’s knowledge grade. The whole enterprise of severely downgrading kids for such transgressions as occasionally being late to class, blurting out answers, doodling instead of taking notes, having a messy backpack, poking the kid in front, or forgetting to have parents sign a permission slip for a class trip, was revamped.

This last point was of particular interest to me. On countless occasions, I have attended school meetings for boy clients of mine who are in an ADHD red-zone. I have learned to request a grade print-out in advance. Not uncommonly, there is a checkered history of radically different grades: A, A, A, B, B, F, F, A. When F grades and a resultant zero points are given for late or missing assignments, a student’s C grade does not reflect his academic performance. Since boys tend to be less conscientious than girls—more apt to space out and leave a completed assignment at home, more likely to fail to turn the page and complete the questions on the back—a distinct fairness issue comes into play when a boy’s occasional lapse results in a low grade. Sadly though, it appears that the overwhelming trend among teachers is to assign zero points for late work. In one survey by Conni Campbell, associate dean of the School of Education at Point Loma Nazarene University, 84 percent of teachers did just that.

Disaffected boys may also benefit from a boot camp on test-taking, time-management, and study habits. These core skills are not always picked up by osmosis in the classroom, or from diligent parents at home. Of course, addressing the learning gap between boys and girls will require parents, teachers and school administrators to talk more openly about the ways each gender approaches classroom learning—and that difference itself remains a tender topic."
gender  schools  boys  girls  education  homework  compliance  conscienciousness  angeladuckworth  2014  martinseligman  deference  authority  self-discipline  adhd  grades  grading  gwenkenney-benson  conditioning  goalsetting  persistence  lindsayreddington  connicampbell  disaffection  testtaking  timemanagement  studyhabits  learninggap  attention  distraction  academics  learning  howwelearn  howweteach  teaching  gendernorms  society  enricognaulati  assessment  standardization 
september 2014 by robertogreco
What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? -
"…concerns about a character program…comprised only those kind of nice-guy values. “The danger w/ character is if you just revert to these general terms—respect, honesty, tolerance—it seems really vague. If I stand in front of kids & just say, ‘It’s really important for you to respect each other,’…they glaze over. But if you say, ‘Well, actually you need to exhibit self-control,’ or you explain the value of social intelligence—this will help you collaborate more effectively —…it seems…more tangible.”…

“Sure, a trait can backfire. Too much grit…you start to lose ability to have empathy for other people. If you’re so gritty that you don’t understand why everyone’s complaining about how hard things are, because nothing’s hard for you, because you’re Mr. Grit, you’re going to have a hard time being kind. Even love—being too loving might make you the kind of person who can get played…character is something you have to be careful about…strengths can become character weaknesses.”
education  character  tcsnmy  lcproject  teaching  learning  grading  books  success  failure  kipp  schools  workethic  kindness  empathy  dominicrandolph  davidlevin  michaelfeinberg  martinseligman  christopherpeterson  2011  psychology  longterm  grit  gritscale  angeladuckworth  iq  wholecandidatescore  grades  self-control  socialintelligence  gratitude  curiosity  optimism  zest  gpa  cpa  character-pointaverage  middle-classvalues  self-regulation  interpersonal  love  humor  beauty  bravery  citizenship  fairness  integrity  wisdom 
september 2011 by robertogreco
Some Dark Thoughts on Happiness -- New York Magazine
"I almost became a professional philosopher," Martin Seligman says. "I had a fellowship to Oxford. I turned it down."…

"My education was Wittgensteinian," he continues. I’d heard this about Seligman too—how fascinated he was by Ludwig Wittgenstein, a famous depressive who nevertheless told his landlady as he was dying, Tell them it’s been wonderful. Seligman’s interested in many famous depressives—Lincoln, Oppenheimer. He identifies himself as a depressive, too. "But in retrospect," he continues, "I think Wittgenstein suborned three generations of philosophy, including mine, by telling us that what we wanted to do was puzzles and that somehow by solving puzzles, problems would get solved. I spent 40 years struggling out of that mode."

Seligman spent almost as long struggling out of the mode of traditional psychology… It is Seligman’s contention that psychology’s emphasis on pathology has marginalized the study of well-being."
happiness  psychology  philosophy  culture  well-being  martinseligman  wittgenstein  positivepsychology  politics  2006  chrispeterson  danielgilbert  shanelopez  babyboomers  malcolmgladwell  georgewbush  pathology  talben-sahar  lottery  wealth  despair  depression  maximizers  satisficers  optimism  pessimism  boomers  self-help 
march 2011 by robertogreco
"… [E]udaemonia, the good life, which is what Thomas Jef­fer­son and Aris­to­tle meant by the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness. They did not mean smil­ing a lot and gig­gling. Aris­to­tle talks about the plea­sures of con­tem­pla­tion and the plea­sures of good con­ver­sa­tion. Aris­to­tle is not talk­ing about raw feel­ing, about thrills, about orgasms. Aris­to­tle is talk­ing about [the new-ish psy­cho­log­i­cal the­ory of flow], and that is, when one has a good con­ver­sa­tion, when one con­tem­plates well. When one is in eudae­mo­nia, time stops. You feel com­pletely at home. Self-consciousness is blocked. You’re one with the music."
mihalycsikszentmihalyi  flow  happiness  psychology  science  depression  philosophy  health  thinking  martinseligman  eudaemonia 
august 2010 by robertogreco

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