Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Alice's Reading Notes for class 1/22

alesnick's picture

Questions for Consideration

To what extent does grit act as an index of empowerment?  

What do the discourse, and the narrative, of grit emphasize?  What do they obscure?

Would you say that Daniel Kish in the Batman podcast from This American Life is "gritty?"  

Selected Reading Notes

Duckworth, et al.

Immediate focus on IQ and prediction.  Is it important to situate and question the centrality of these?

Footnote (p. 1087): "In this article, we are concerned with objective accomplishments. That is, we are interested in vocational and avocational achievements that are recognized by other people, in contrast to those that are primarily of subjective value to the individual. We do not examine success in other important domains of life, such as parenting, citizenship, friendship, and so on. Thus, we use terms like success and achievement to refer to the accomplishment of widely valued goals."

This bears analyzing.  Are "objective" and "subjective" the most accurate distinguishers here?  What about the distinction between "cognitive" and "noncongnitive skills or strengths?

Key words: stamina, strenuous, marathon, "star performers,"

1088: "As context for the current research, we briefly review more recent research on individual differences that bear on success. We leave aside for the moment questions about how goals are set and maintained, how values and expectancies affect goal attainment, and so on. We also omit from our review situational factors and social and cultural variables that influence achievement. For a broader review than is possible here, we refer the reader to Simonton (1994) and Latham and Pinder (2005). "

Can and should these questions, factors, and variables be left "aside for the moment?"

1090: "Our overarching goal for scale development was to capture the attitudes and behaviors characteristic of the high-achieving individuals described to us in early, exploratory interviews with lawyers, businesspeople, aca- demics, and other professionals."  What do we make of the social class bias here?  Of the use of the Web as access to subjects?

1091: "As we predicted, more educated adults were higher in grit than were less educated adults of equal age."   What do you make of this?

UPenn undergrads; West Point; spelling bee . . . what do you make of these contexts for the studies?

1098: "In our view, achievement is the product of talent and effort, the latter a function of the intensity, direction, and duration of one’s exertions toward a goal."  Is there any need to attend to conditions outside of individual talent and effort?  


Grit v the Grit Narrative

"Saved by grit! What observers are now calling the "Grit Narrative"--that anyone can succeed if they just work hard enough, try hard enough, keep their nose to the grindstone and endure whatever travails life throws at them--provides a perfect solution. The poor who stay poor lack grit! The students in underperforming schools lack grit! Their parents lack grit! Even their teachers are shiftless, gritless slugs, protected by unions when they're not taking long vacations. No need to worry about poverty and racism--those are just excuses. The real problem is an endemic lack of grit, individual failure writ large across whole populations."

What do you make of this critique?


What is the place of emotions and more broadly emotional history, development, and pressure in the grit narrative?  

What is grit a tool for?  What is it not a tool for (i.e. not good as part of kids' grades)?


Fit, not grit -- Is Warner talking about a flow state?  Alignment with context?  Process that is less self-willed, more intuitive?  

"When I am focused on long term goals, all I can see is my failure to achieve them. When I stop worrying about the payoff and get busy in the moment, I have success. I become mindful, aware and alive."





MiriamPerez's picture

In our small group we talked about the damage that focusing on hard work as an assessible quality can have on children, especially young ones. What does it mean for kids when we judge them by our perceptions of how hard they work? Danielle pointed to this in class, but it's very difficult to tell how hard someone is working because ability/ies vary so much from person to person. Additionally, how do we decide what's worthy of hard work? Isn't it just as important for elementary school children to "work hard" at building social relationships at recess? 

alesnick's picture

I appreciate this thoughtful complexification. Here is something on KIPP's website about how they endeavor to trach and assess grit as part of "character:"  I agree that thinking about the "work" of children is quite complex, given that play is a big part of their work!  I'll be curious about how your placement experiences contribute to this exploration.

empowered21's picture

Passage from Kurt Vonneguts', "God Bless you Mr Rosewater"

“The what?”

The Money River, where the wealth of the nation flows. We were born on the banks of it. We can slurp from that mighty river to our hearts’ content. And we even take slurping lessons, so we can slurp more efficiently.

“Slurping lessons?”

From lawyers! From tax consultants! We’re born close enough to the river to drown ourselves and the next ten generations in wealth, simply using dippers and buckets. But we still hire the experts to teach us the use of aqueducts, dams, reservoirs, siphons, bucket brigades, and the Archimedes’ screw. And our teachers in turn become rich, and their children become buyers of lessons in slurping.

“It’s still possible for an American to make a fortune on his own.”

Sure—provided somebody tells him when he’s young enough that there is a Money River, that there’s nothing fair about it, that he had damn well better forget about hard work and the merit system and honesty and all that crap, and get to where the river is. ‘Go where the rich and powerful are,’ I’d tell him, ‘and learn their ways. They can be flattered and they can be scared. Please them enormously or scare them enormously, and one moonless night they will put their fingers to their lips, warning you not to make a sound. And they will lead you through the dark to the widest, deepest river of wealth ever known to man. You’ll be shown your place on the riverbank, and handed a bucket all your own. Slurp as much as you want, but try to keep the racket of your slurping down. A poor man might hear.’


alesnick's picture

Thanks for sharing this -- it's a powerful discussion of the depth of social, cultural, and political capital.  I think it would be a good teaching text.  I'm interested especially in the way it portrays the relationships and barriers among rich, middle class, and poor.  That the poor are tricked into thinking their poverty is their fault, not the result of organized "slurping" and slurping lessons, is of great concern.

Kirsten Adams's picture

From "What's Dangerous about the Grit Narrative, and How to Fix It" by Peter Gow:

One thing we didn't get a chance to talk about in class that really stuck out to me was the idea of the "Grit Narrative" and how it becomes an excuse, explaining why people are and remain in poverty, underprivileged, etc. By blindly believing in it, it allows people in power to negate their responsibility for or at least acknowledgement of, the systems of oppression that keep people from achieving the successes that those with the forms of capital can. It shifts the root of the cause from being systemic to the individual, allowing poverty to become a moral problem reflective of the lack of grit and effort of the person themselves.

The Grit Narrative works well with the idea of the American Dream, and meritocracy, but all of these ideas focus on the individual and forgets about the forces surrounding them. They focus on the idea that if the person "just works hard enough" they can and will succeed, and if they don't, "they must not have wanted it badly enough". Gow points out a key irony as well that I find as fascinating as I do frustrating/infuriating. Some who believe in the ideals above like to condemn the poor, but at the same time, praise those who succeed in defying the odds. While these success stories are indeed wonderful, they become another way for those in power to negate responsibility. They provide an, "AH HA, see?!!" moment, implying "It can be done!... If this person defied the odds, those who don't must not want to." Instead of seeing everything the person had to go through to defy the odds, they just see the end result, completely ignoring the fact that not everybody has the capitals to "defy the odds".

This leads me to ask how we can instill motivation and commitment to long term goals in our students, without placing the commitment to reaching and succeeding in those goals directly and explicitly on them. Could it still be called grit if multiple people are helping a student reach a long term goal and succeed in it? I would be interested in discussing this and seeing what others in the class think!

alesnick's picture

Wow. I greatly appreciate this re-framing of grit to apply to social support for individual thriving, and perseverance in creating and sustaining such support.  I would add that from my perspective, people are generally very motivated and committed to their own survivance, in Tuck's terms.  Could a similar re-framing work here: rather than "how can we instill motivation?" might we ask, "How can we inhibit social forces that demotivate?"