Defund the “Grit” Industry: Alternatives to Tough and Duckworth

radical eyes for equity

Once edujournalist Paul Tough and “grit”-genius Angela Duckworth realized their significant contributions to the “grit” industry were gradually being unmasked, they discovered ways to cash in on backpedalling (slightly) to keep the train rolling.

Regretfully, many very good people have praised Tough and Duckworth for their much-too-late and way-too-little—somehow ignoring the incredible damage that has been done to vulnerable populations of students—and even recommend Tough and Duckworth’s “new” books.

Please, I beg of you, do not forgive and forget, and especially do not fund further the “grit” industry.

Let me offer instead a few alternatives:

Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir

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[See also George Saunders’s Allegory of Scarcity and Slack]

Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap, Paul Gorski

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[See also Recommended: Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty, Paul C. Gorski]

For…

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More on Grit: Author Ethan Ris Responds to Paul Thomas’ Post

More on Grit: Author Ethan Ris Responds to Paul Thomas’ Post

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.

Tide Turning on Cult of “Grit”?

Review by Judith Shulevitz

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.

JAMILA CARTER WEIGHS IN ON NO-EXCUSES DISCIPLINE

JAMILA CARTER WEIGHS IN ON NO-EXCUSES DISCIPLINE

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.

Christopher Emdin Confronts “White Folks’ Pedagogy”: “whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student”

radical eyes for equity

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)

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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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The Payne of Confronting Stereotypes about Poverty as Educators

radical eyes for equity

Several years ago, I invited Randy Bomer to speak at my university and then at the annual South Carolina Council of Teachers of English (SCCTE) convention about the flawed but widely used framework of poverty by Ruby Payne.

After Bomer’s presentation at SCCTE, a woman energetically confronted Bomer, offering an impassioned story of her being from poverty and arguing that Payne’s work resonated with her own lived experiences.

I stood there and watched as Bomer patiently walked her through how her own beliefs about poverty were stereotypes that matched the false narratives sold by Payne. This was an uncomfortable and difficult exchange. But necessary, especially for educators.

This experience was brought back to mind when Nancy Flanagan posted Do Teachers Read Professionally?, which included:

In an earlier incarnation of the course, almost half the teachers (from a single state) mentioned Ruby Payne’s Framework for Understanding Poverty, a book…

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