Friday, February 6, 2015

Grit and Racisim

I was catching up on my blog reading when I stumbled up a recent debate that rose up around whether or not teaching students to have grit is racist.
Grit has been a popular term in education the last few years, and like anything that becomes popular it was bound to get some push back. The idea behind grit is that when students from poverty succeed, what makes them succeed is their work ethic and resiliency, not just what we do for them in school.

I had to read the blog post multiple times because I was so confused. Why would grit be racist? While it become a popular term in reference to teaching resiliency to students from poverty, I'd always thought it was what all of our students need. In fact, as a parent I'm often focused on teaching grit. It is exactly what I want my daughters to have. An ability to work hard, meet challenges head on instead of giving up, and to attempt tasks they are not sure they can do. In the world of the helicopter parent I think it's what all of our students need- not just those from poverty. I'd never thought of the term only being applied to students from poverty. Anytime we apply a concept only to one subset of people I suppose it is racist. But I am doubtful that there are schools out there saying, "OK, you white kids over there can take a break but everybody else better keep working on these math problems during recess."


Anonymous said...

You're so right. I think part of the problem is the use of the word "grit" instead of something a little less loaded, like "perseverance." Grit sounds as if we are wanting students to sit there frowning and pushing themselves beyond what's reasonable all day every day; I don't like the sound of that either. And while it's certainly true that children from poverty do have grit when it comes to having to cope with big challenges in their environments, its also true that some of them, in the face of challenges bigger than children can deal with, do develop a somewhat passive approach to school (as do some middle class kids, but not as many in my experience).

Jenny said...

This was a hot topic of conversation at Educon this year. I think one of the problems many folks have with grit is the limited way we use it. We talk about wanting kids to learn grit in order to do all the things they have to do in school. Often these same kids have plenty of grit when it comes to other areas of their lives. Is it possible we need to look at what we're asking them to do in school that requires grit? Maybe it's not the best way for them to learn.

organized chaos said...

Anonymous- I think you are right- the term grit has been catchy and gotten people's attention, but it does sound like we want kids to be scrappy and unhappy. Perseverance is really what we are talking about.
And most importantly, talking about grit/perseverance shouldn't replace taking care of students' basic human needs. They can go hand in hand.
Jenny, I'm curious about all of this debate over grit. It's true that students can have grit in other areas of their lives. The answer there comes down to what we are looking for out of them as educators. Are we changing how we teach concepts to better fit how they learn, or are we changing our expectations for them? Changing our expectations is a problem, but changing how we will get there is essential when it comes to any student we work with.

organized chaos said...

I also think teaching goal setting and problem solving is essential in this debate. Every student- no matter what the student's background- should know how to set a goal and work toward a result.
Teaching problem solving asks students to identify the problem, think of solutions, and self-advocate to find a way to solve the problem. Self advocacy can go a long way for all of our students, and can teach our students to let us know if they are hungry, are having trouble concentrating, or had a rough night the night before.

Jenny said...

Self-advocacy is an interesting addition to this conversation (and a skill that is critical for all kids). If kids are able to self-advocate maybe that would solve some of the concerns about grit. The conversations I hear suggest that too often grit is required or expected by teachers and schools so that kids can answer lots of questions on a worksheet or complete a test. The thought being that maybe it isn't that kids don't have grit, but that they don't see the value in what they are being asked to do.

If they self-advocated maybe they would share those concerns. Ideally that would allow us to move forward to seeing kids' grit and finding better ways for them to demonstrate their grit AND their learning at school.

I, too, prefer the term perseverance. I think about it in terms of building stamina or working through something that is hard, but interesting. I think it's probably the same thing as grit, but it brings forward different emotions.