Getting Grittier

Recently, I’ve heard and read a lot of discussion about “Grit.” How to teach it, grit as a predictor of academic and personal success, and that grit just still isn’t enough.

And while I largely agree with Angela Lee Duckworth’s research, I still see how it might be shortsighted.


I agree that we need to teach grit but maybe not to all students.  Maybe only to those who haven’t needed grit to survive.

I have often heard the phrase “Learned Helplessness,” as it seems to plague this generation of students.  And I remember a couple of years ago, my Professional Learning Community often discussed how students must learn to persevere through texts, questions, and problems they cannot easily understand or answer.  Instead, my colleagues suggested that they look to teachers to give them the answer, to tell them what it means.  And this behavior, they argued, applied to all students.

In this way, I agree with Duckworth. Students must have grit to persevere.  But coming from an educational background that pushed Critical Race Theory, as an important component of teacher education, I cannot wholly agree with what she suggests.

Grit will get you far.  But perhaps only so far, in a system that calls for standardization and does not account for the socio-cultural background of students.  Or of students with special needs.

In my state, there are essentially two different requirements for graduation at this point.  Graduating requires that students persevere through  coursework, 25 required graduation credits in core and elective classes (last I checked) and take an AP, online, dual enrollment class at a local college, or distance learning course at our Continuing Education campus.  This also precludes many students from fulfilling this graduation requirement: students with limited or no access to the internet, students who do not have a car or whose family does not have a single car between them, students must work during the day to support themselves or their families, and the list seems to go on and on.

However, it’s easy to say that if these kids had “grit” they would be successful in school.  They would pass the required classes and graduate.

I argue that these kids already HAVE grit!  They already “live grittily,” as  EdWeekly suggests we should teach our students in this article.  They show up at school, hungry or not, maybe even after sleeping under an overpass that night.

And regardless of the students’ circumstances, the second graduation requirement, which is seemingly more insidious, is being hotly debated in the NM Legislature session, as we speak.  And that is the gauntlet of standardized tests that students must pass before graduating. They must take and pass the Standards Based Assessment in Math, Reading, and Science.  They must also pass an End of Course Exam in Social Studies and Writing.  There now exists an alternate demonstration of competency, which I can barely follow.  And it looks something like this:


It’s just insane, the use of these one-shot exams to determine competency. Although, according to that complex matrix, in some subjects, students can simply “exhaust” all attempts to take the test and then can use their passing grades in the content course to fulfill the testing requirements.


I’m scratching my head too.  And this is exactly my point.  Graduation is limited to passing a set of tests that are culturally and linguistically biased against students of color, students learning English as a second language, and students with developmental and cognitive disabilities.  How can “grit” help them pass.  Help them to be the first in their families to graduate.

This is where I believe “grit” will only get you so far, in a system seemingly stacked against certain students.

And this is the truth.  And the kids get it.  This, I think, is why some kids play the system, asking for answers instead of working for them.  They don’t see themselves in the system.  And some students believe that no amount of “grit” will get them there.


One thought on “Getting Grittier

  1. Pingback: Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive! | High School Matters

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