When Grit Isn’t Enough

I’m reading When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise. I incorporated some quotes and thoughts from it into my The Pipeline Problem and the Meritocracy Myth and Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology posts.

I’ve been working the mindset marketing beat for a few years now, ever since Leader in Me arrived at my elementary school. I’ve done a lot of reading and listening since then. For me, mindset marketing and behaviorism are up there with the cult of compliance and the grading and ranking of children as the biggest obstacles in the way of education. Grit, growth mindset, LiM, and Positive Behavior Support are fundamentally at odds with neurological pluralism, critical pedagogy, and social justice/social model education reform.

These deficit ideologies ignore systemic problems, choosing instead to tinker with kids. They push the meritocracy myth. The assumptions made by these ideologies harmfully gaslight students and families.

1. Money doesn’t have to be an obstacle

2. Race doesn’t matter

3. Just work harder

4. There is a college for everyone/everyone can go to college

5. If you believe in yourself, your dreams will come true

Taken together, the five assumptions listed above can be dangerous because they reinforce the deeply held American belief that success is individually created and sustained. “If I could do it, so can you” is an echo of the “just work harder” assumption. It is the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” ethos to which so many generations of Americans adhere. Yet data repeatedly show how poverty, social class, race, and parents’ educational attainment more directly influence an individual’s success and potential earnings than any individual effort. We clearly do not yet have a level playing field, but this belief is all but impossible to challenge. Whenever we hear of another bootstraps story, we want to generalize. We disregard the fact that luck often plays a major role. And in generalizing and celebrating the individual nature of success, we disregard the imperative to rethink social and economic policies that leave many behind.

Source: Nathan, Linda F.. When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise (p. 6, p. 8). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

We also see these down-punching deficit ideologies in disability and neurodiversity communities in the forms of inspiration porn and the super crip narrative. Our societal infatuation with deficit ideologies and fixing kids instead of systems has led to the domination of instructional design and almost all educational technology by operant conditioning and the manipulation of response to stimuli. This a huge, generational threat, particularly to marginalized kids.

Let’s stop spending time and money reinforcing deficit ideologies. Let’s stop pursuing behaviorism that has been vocally and forcefully rejected by the folks subjected to it. Instead, fix injustice, not kids, and bring social model inclusion to education.

Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry. We have to stop making everything about the individual.

But as I began to visit more schools and talk to my alums who were incredibly “gritty,” I became actually disgusted with the “movement.” It is a movement, for the most part, “owned and operated” by white folks and executed onto black and brown bodies.

Of course you don’t get ahead without determination and persistence, and it’s one of the reasons I’m such an arts advocate. That’s what you learn in the arts: how to practice, how to work together, how to persist through difficult scenes, lines, choreography, etc. . . . but this notion that “if we show grit by having strict behavioral codes/rules, all will be well” is ridiculous.

I’ve seen too many boys (especially black/brown boys)  suffocated by what has become grit pedagogy. Kids need to jump and play and yell and run. Of course not in the classroom all the time, but we must ensure that there are multiple methods to reach and teach our students. I think this “movement” needs to be curbed and I am pleased that even some of the “worst” offenders are now questioning their tactics.

Source: Principal: “Money matters. Race matters. Grit talk makes me angry.” – The Washington Post

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