Originally posted by @mchill
I just finished a wonderful book (audio version) . It's called Grit by Angela Duckworth. This lady made a very strong and detailed case that high achievers in many fields are a product of persistence and passion for their endeavors, and not necessarily due to educational or physical gifts. This may sound obvious, but too often people lose sight of this. High ...[text shortened]... known that this horrible racist, sexist white male is occasionally open minded in this area! 🙂
I already was aware of _Grit_ by Angela Duckworth, and I am much less impressed than Mchill by it.
It's a very superficial (or misleading) tautological pop psychology book. How much
should the author be praised for knowing her naïve American target audience so well?
Here's a critical review by David Denby in the 'New Yorker':
"The Limits of “Grit""
--David Denby (21 June 2016) (which is more than one year ago)
"Other social scientists, looking at the West Point situation and many others that Duckworth considers,
might have called grit an “independent variable”—one possible factor in a given experimental
situation affecting many other factors. But Duckworth decided that grit is the single trait
in our complex and wavering nature which accounts for success"
"I’m not sure what we’re learning from any of this. There may be a few champions who
get by purely on talent, luck, or family wealth, but we can assume—can’t we?—that most
highly successful people are resilient and persevering. It would be news if they weren’t.
Grit can be partly inferred from their success itself, which is, of course, what drew Duckworth
to these people in the first place. There are no mediocre or moderately successful people
in her book, and she has little interest in the myriad ways we hamper ourselves—failure,
in this account, is simply owing to a lack of grit.
Tautology haunts the shape of these fervent lessons. “Grittier spellers practiced more
than less gritty spellers,” Duckworth assures us. Well, yes. She is looking for winners,
and winners of a certain sort: survivors in highly competitive activities in which a single
physical, mental, or technical skill can be cultivated through relentless practice."
"Even so, “Grit” is a pop-psych smash. More than eight million people saw Duckworth’s TED talk
before the book came out. Duckworth is in demand in many places as a motivational speaker."
Angela Duckworth's successful at marketing.
"Duckworth’s work, however, has been playing very well with a second audience: a variety
of education reformers who have seized on “grit” as a quality that can be located and
developed in children, especially in poor children. Some public schools are now altering
their curricula to teach grit and other gritty character traits. In California, a few schools
are actually grading kids on grit."
It's absurd to grade children according to a teacher's perception of their 'grit'.
One reason is that such perceptions are very culturally dependent, and such grades
introduce strong factors of cultural bias (which means de facto racial or ethnic bias).
"Despite some success at individual schools, there has been little over-all improvement in the scores
of poor children. The gap between white and minority children has actually increased in recent years."
Many poor East Asian immigrant children (even from non-English-speaking families)
perform better than affluent white children, but their achievements tend to be regarded as
extremely 'politically embarrassing', so they are ignored or dismissed by the US media.
Cultural differences do influence educational outcomes.
"If we suffer from a grit deficiency in this country, it shows up in our unwillingness
to face what is obviously true—that poverty is the real cause of failing schools."
It's easier for affluent (mostly white) Americans to blame the supposed lack of grit in poor
(mostly non-white) children than to pay more taxes to support 'failing' public schools.
"In brief, we are obsessed with talent, but we should also be obsessed with effort.
Duckworth is both benefitting from this line of thought and expanding it herself.
The finding about non-cognitive skills is being treated as a revelation, and maybe it
should be; among other things, it opens possible avenues for action. Could cultivating
grit and other character traits be the cure, the silver bullet that ends low performance?"
"Reading Paul Tough’s new book, “Helping Children Succeed” (a sequel to the acclaimed
“How Children Succeed,” from 2012), should give pause to the more extravagant hopes.
Tough, a journalist who studies poverty and child development, begins with the inevitable
bad news: prosperous children who are read to, talked to, and educated in many ways
by their caregivers come to school way ahead of poor children, especially children who
grow up amid noise, violence, and unending stress and uncertainty. Kids from harsh
environments can be badly hurt before they leave infancy. This is a matter of correlation,
not causation. Poverty in itself doesn’t create troubled children; the quality of parenting
and household atmosphere is what matters."
"According to neuroscientists and pediatricians, grit may be out of reach for some kids
all through childhood, and perhaps beyond."
"In this light, Duckworth’s work regarding poor children becomes irrelevant or even unwittingly abrasive.
In effect, the children are being held responsible for their environment; low character
scores become an accusation against poor kids that they cannot possibly answer."
Let's not be too deterministic here. It's possible, even if it's unlikely, for a child from a
poor, even an abusive, family to succeed in school. I grew up in an extremely harsh
environment (with domestic violence), provoking me, as a child, to consider suicide.
And I was a member of a historically persecuted minority that encountered extreme bigotry.
Contrary to the stereotypes of the school authorities and educational 'experts', I surpassed
academically students who had--by far--every possible advantage in support over me.
My story may be exceptional, but it's not unique.
My point is that children are diverse, complex, and often more resilient than adults assume.
When I was a young child, school 'experts' told my parents that, as I obviously lacked intelligence
(I had grown up not knowing the school's language of instruction), the best that I could hope
for as a career would be doing something mechanical (like a factory worker) where I could
follow simple instructions and did not have to use my brain much. My father encouraged
me to develop secretarial skills early because he reckoned that it could be a good career.
My life experience shows how much some 'experts' can be blinded by their prejudices
and how wrong they can be, though they typically prefer not to admit their errors.