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Quote Of The Day: The Appeal Of “Grit”

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Thanks to Carl Hendrick and Alexander Russo, I learned about the American Prospect’s new article titled Teaching Character. It provides what I think is a well-written critical perspective on the recent public interest in teaching “grit,” and also includes fair responses from supporters.

As I’ve written before, I think teaching grit can have a place in classroom, as it does in mine, but also needs to recognize the grit that many of our students have already and can’t be viewed as a cure-all — it has to be kept in its place. I’m a big supporter of applying Social Emotional Learning in schools, but am concerned about some viewing it as a Let Them Eat Character policy in place of providing the needed financial and policy support our schools and communities need (see my Washington Post column, The manipulation of Social Emotional Learning).

Here’s an important quote from the American Prospect article from Pam Moran (I’ve written about her in the past):


I’m adding this post to The Best Resources For Learning About “Grit.”

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. The author, Larry Ferlazzo, argues that while grit should be taught some in the classroom, it should not be thought of as a “cure all”. While I agree that grit should not be viewed as the answer to all teaching problems associated with motivation and self-regulation, it is a very important psychological trait that is linked with many other positive life predictors, such as academic success, happiness, and life satisfaction, and should not be understated.

    The concept of grit can easily be confused. It does not just refer to hard work and perseverance, but instead only applies to these attributes in the context of completing a long-term goal. It is possible to have good self-regulation, but if you aren’t working towards a long-term goal, then you can’t be described as gritty. Nobody describes grit better than Will Smith talking about working towards a goal, “The only thing that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things—you got it on me in nine categories. But if get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: you’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple…”.¬¬¬ Now that I have explained what grit is, I’m going to explain why it is so important, and really should be emphasized in classes.

    While grit is still a new field with not much research in it yet, the studies that have been conducted so far are very promising. A study by Duckworth & Seligman (2005) reports that grit is more important than IQ in predicting academic success. Not only that, but other studies show that grit is a better predictor of dropping out of military academy than a composite of SAT scores, high school GPA, fitness test scores, and measures of leadership (Maddi et al., 2012) (Kelly, Matthews, &Bartone, 2014) . These are very important findings that should not be taken lightly. While it is true that grit is a new field of research that has not been examined too thoroughly yet, we should definitely be trying to figure out better strategies to teach grit to students. It is a very important variable in how a child will do as their life progresses, and if we can begin to teach grit well, we will be benefitting students immensely. Grit does not only predict academic success, but also happiness and life satisfaction. Grit is significantly negatively correlated with negative affect, as well as significantly positively correlated with satisfaction with life and level of experienced positive affect and satisfaction over time (Singh & Jha, 2008) . Those who are opposed to grit research believe that it is not measured reliably enough (through self-reported surveys). However, many psychological variables are measured this way, and there really seems to be no better way than self-report to measure this currently. While this is a real concern, the overwhelmingly positive results from grit research up to now should not be ignored. We should stay optimistic about grit as more and more studies are being published now. Also, to increase the reliability of girt research, Duckworth’s lab is currently working on developing more testable measures of grit, such as activities and games that can really make his and other positive findings of grit have serious weight .

    While this author argues that teaching students to be grittier could be useful, but shouldn’t be overstressed, I believe that grit really should be emphasized in the classroom. While the field is young, all the studies that have come out have overwhelmingly positive results concerning grit, and I believe that this should be looked into more and really used to help children of all backgrounds and social economic statuses. Stefani DeLuca, a Johns Hopkins University Sociologist, sums up the importance of grit very simply, “Learning how to be persistent at an unpleasant task, it’s hard to argue that doesn’t matter.”

    1) Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological science,16, 939-944.

    2) Maddi, S. R., Matthews, M. D., Kelly, D. R., Villarreal, B., & White, M. (2012). The role of hardiness and grit in predicting performance and retention of USMA cadets. Military Psychology, 24, 19-28.

    3) Kelly, D. R., Matthews, M. D., & Bartone, P. T. (2014). Grit and hardiness as predictors of performance among West Point cadets. Military Psychology,26, 327.

    4) Singh, K., & Jha, S. D. (2008). Positive and negative affect, and grit as predictors of happiness and life satisfaction. Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology, 34(2), 40-45.

    5) Cohen, R. (n.d.). Teaching Character. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from

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