And I am certainly sensitive to Thomas’s point that a reluctance to call racism by its name makes its eradication that much more difficult. Let me be clear: grit theory, in the wrong hands, fuels racism and classism. But I am more concerned about what happens when grit theory is in the right hands.
No ‘Grit’ at Lab or Francis Parker, Mike Klonsky
The feebleness of this example exposes a flaw in this book and, to a lesser degree, in Duckworth’s doctrine: A focus on grit decouples character education from moral development. Duckworth never questions the values of a society geared toward winning, nor does she address the systemic barriers to success. She is aware of the problem, and includes the necessary to-be-sure paragraph. “Opportunities — for example, having a great coach or teacher — matter tremendously,” she writes. “My theory doesn’t address these outside forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” She concludes with a section praising the writer and MacArthur fellow Ta‑Nehisi Coates for being “especially gritty,” though I wonder how Coates, who has written extensively about structural racism in America, might feel about being used to exemplify her up-by-the-bootstraps ethos.
You can’t blame Duckworth for how people apply her ideas, but she’s not shy about reducing them to nostrums that may trickle down in problematic ways. On the one hand, some of the “no excuses” charter schools that her research helped to shape have raised math and literacy scores among minority and poor students. On the other hand, a growing number of scholars as well as former teachers at those schools report that some of the schools, at least, feel more like prisons than houses of learning. Schools that prize self-regulation over self-expression may lift a number of children out of poverty, but may also train them to act constrained and overly deferential — “worker-learners,” as the ethnographer Joanne W. Golann calls them. Meanwhile, schools for more affluent children encourage intellectual curiosity, independent reasoning and creativity. Ask yourself which institutions are more likely to turn out leaders. Perhaps an approach to character training that’s less hard-edge — dare I say, less John Wayne-ish? — and more willing to cast a critical eye on the peculiarly American cult of individual ascendancy could instill grit while challenging social inequality, rather than inadvertently reproducing it.
It’s deplorable to defend teaching that mimics animal training and extreme discipline practices in the name of a school’s success record. Usually the children who have the most needs are the ones that suffer, and if we push our most vulnerable children away, then it’s hardly a success at all.
In fact, it perpetuates the school- to-prison pipeline. After all, we’re relegating children to alternative schools that continue to fail children. Many of these children who are pushed away drop out of school and ironically end up in the hands of the justice system.
In his For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, Christopher Emdin confronts “classroom colonialism” (p. 14), and clarifies earlier in his Preface:
What I am suggesting is that it is possible for people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to take on approaches to teaching that hurt youth of color….
I argue that there must be a concerted effort…to challenge the “white folks’ pedagogy” that is being practiced by teachers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. (pp. viii-ix)
Among K-12 educators and the general public, terms such as “colonialism,” “critical pedagogy,” and even “racism” may seem merely academic—ideas teased out among scholars in their ivory towers. However, as Emdin carefully details and interrogates, vulnerable populations of students (mostly black, brown, and poor) as well as the teachers charged with serving those students experience daily the realities of “white folks’ pedagogy” that demands assimilation and compliance…
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Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?, Vicki Abeles
But even Dr. Slavin seemed unprepared for the results of testing he did in cooperation with Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit. He had anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students last spring, using two standard measures, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results were stunning: 54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. More alarming, 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.
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…As a result, the most challenging aspect of my commitment to cultivating educators who are threats to educational inequities is in helping them, first, to understand the problems they are trying to solve with enough complexity that they start to become that threat. When it comes to matters of poverty, that means letting go of deficit views of families in poverty, the mythical “culture of poverty” idea, the paternalistic “grit” obsession, and other mindlessly simplistic (and, of course, inaccurate) notions and presumptions about poverty and educational outcome disparities….
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