One of the most popular buzzwords in education today is “grit.” It is on the lips of teachers and administrators nationwide. Angela Duckworth (pictured), the professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research has fueled this buzz, is the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant and operates a lab at the university dedicated to the study of grit. There are even subcategories of grit, like “math grit,” being seriously discussed by serious educators.
The first criticism of the term is that it is obvious and unoriginal. Hard work leads to success? Persistence has been studied by psychologists since modern psychology was founded. Similar concepts, like the reaction to suffering, have been studied by philosophers for thousands of years. Why rebrand all of this thought, much of which is rich and helpful, with a slangy, informal word?
A second concern is that it is racist. Many children do not succeed because of the conditions of their neighborhoods and families and the attitudes of their society. While it is of course necessary to talk about personal responsibility, the idea that there is a measurable trait (rather than an ideal to live up to) reeks of Jim Crow-era racism.
A third problem is that the concept itself is circular. Who is successful (defined as achieving goals)? People who have grit. Ok, what is “grit?” The ability to achieve goals. This research is considered genius?
A fourth difficulty is that it is sometimes better to quit than to stick it out. Much of the grit research was done in environments, like West Point, that require obedience above all else. But what about the rest of the world? Should you advise “grit” to someone in an abusive relationship? No, you should tell them to leave. What about someone who feels worthless in a job? Again, they should leave and find a better fit. The mark of adulthood is the ability to make wise decisions, many of which will involve choosing when to work hard and when to leave. Can we teach students how to make this choice, rather than push a slangy version of obedience?
“It's not all that important that you be able to originate brilliant ideas... The more important talent is to be able to recognize good ideas from other people.”
― Eric S. Raymond
In the late 1990’s, software engineer Eric S. Raymond wrote an essay, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” which struck a nerve and formalized the open-source movement. He argued that software that was developed by the “Cathedral,” or a select and exclusive group of people, was inferior to those developed by the “Bazaar,” or the large marketplace of willing participants.
Jimmy Wales was inspired by this essay when he founded Wikipedia. The Mozilla project was inspired by this essay. If you spend any time working in technology, you will see aspects of this ethic everywhere. I recently learned the statistical language R (which is open source) and was amazed at how many thorough explanations to any possible problem were a short Google search away.
Related is the hacker movement, which has been misinterpreted and coopted to mean, essentially, “stupid shortcut.” But both the hackers and the open source movement have a set of philosophical principles that could be applied to education: openness, decentralization, meritocracy and a devious sense of humor.
Education reform up until this point has been from the “Cathedral” – from prominent universities, Bill Gates-funded charities, or the Federal Government – and the results have been lackluster. At the NCTM last week, I saw a “bazaar” vision of the future: the MTBoS, or “Math Twitter Blogosphere.”
It is a group enthusiastic math teachers who blog about their lesson plans and get feedback, support, and ideas from each other. Yes, teachers have been blogging for a while, but these guys are getting organized: Check them out on Twitter @exploreMTBoS or use the hashtag #MTBoS, or look at the new website: https://exploremtbos.wordpress.com/
By some estimates, a child is over twenty times more likely to be abused by a sibling than by a parent. Other studies showed that 40% of siblings committed a serious act of aggression in the previous year. Within families in which parents are abusive, either to each other or to their children, close to 100% of the children are violent with each other. The long-term effects of this abuse are the same as any other type of abuse: depression, substance abuse, and a continuation of the cycle of abuse.
Violent sibling rivalry is a common theme in literature and mythology. Cain murdered Abel in the first book of the bible. Rome was founded after Romulus murdered his brother Remus. Shakespeare’s King Lear features a sister killing. Scar plotted against Mufasa in the Lion King. There are countless historical examples as well: Cleopatra had her sister put to death, for example.
Oceans of ink are spilled writing about bullying and combatting abuse at school. Sophisticated agencies exist to prevent children being abused by their parents. And yet, sibling abuse goes largely unrecognized; many people are shocked to hear the previous statistics. Others dismiss the statistics as exaggerating normal, healthy roughhousing.
One of the causes of sibling abuse is a competition for parent’s favor. The children fight, belittle, and lie about each other to win their parents’ admiration. Is it possible that our single-minded focus on self-esteem, along with the idea that self-esteem is built by praise, is causing this most common of abuses?
I'm an entrepreneur and I teach math, history, economics, and fitness. I'm looking for arguments.