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?
I'm an entrepreneur and I teach math, history, economics, and fitness. I'm looking for arguments.