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Bruno: Teachers Need Grit To Resist Grit Fad

6817840912_185871a34d"Grit" - the tendency of a person to persevere through the difficult process of attaining a long-term goal - has become popular among educators recently who view it as one of those "non-cognitive" skills that, if properly instilled, can help students succeed in school and in life.

Paul Tough wrote a book on the subject. Angela Duckworth's work on grit got her a MacArthur "genius" grant.

And it took no time at all for many educators to begin celebrating grit as "the best predictor of individual success" and "more important" than other abilities. 

Over the last few weeks Peter Meyer has written a couple of very good essays summarizing why the educational significance of "grit" is probably overstated. You should read them both, but the bottom line is that while grit is certainly good to have, persistence is helpful largely because it facilitates the development and utilization of conventional cognitive abilities.

In other words, educators excited about developing students' grit tend to underestimate how important it will be for those students to acquire large amounts of factual knowledge.

Unfortunately, this tendency to underestimate the importance of knowledge is all too common. In fact, it often seems like many educators are constantly on the lookout for any excuse to teach students fewer facts about the world.

Grit might be the current flavor of the month, but at various times that spot has been occupied by "21st century skills", "social-emotional intelligence", or "inquiry skills", among others.

Those educational fads are in many respects very different, but they are unified by at least one striking trait: they are all based on or encourage the belief that knowing things about the world is consistently overvalued in education and may not be necessary at all.

Why so many educators are so eager to minimize or do away with knowledge in education is hard to know. It might have to do with an intuition that facts are somehow pedestrian or banal. Or it may be that because education has been mostly about knowledge for millennia it seems long overdue for innovation of some kind.

But whatever the reason, education is constantly bouncing from one shiny object to another these days, chasing a series of silver bullets that promise to solve our educational woes by replacing knowledge with...something.

Where these fixes consistently go wrong is in assuming that our problems are caused by an overabundance of knowledge, rather than a lack of it. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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I don't think anyone assumes we have an over abundance of knowledge. The fact is, there is infinitely more to 'know' now than just two hundred or even a hundred years ago. It is no longer possible to know everything (it essentially was not too long ago). So at some level there may be a hope that we can impart something that transcends facts given we can never succeed at imparting all the facts.

But the reason we get new shiny objects is that the reform movement demands that. I expect district leaders know more than anybody that these are mere buzzwords and fads. But if talking about them gets people off of teachers backs so they can actually do their jobs then it may just be worth it.

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