Video: The potential and limits of 'grit' in the classroom


Psychologist Angela Duckworth discusses the value of engendering passion and perseverance in personal development

16th June 2016

There's been a lot of excitement recently about 'grit', an idea popularised by psychologist Angela Duckworth in a 2007 paper, a 2013 TED talk and now a new book.

The concept is that students' perseverance and commitment to long-term goals, fuelled by specific passions, may matter much more than previously appreciated, when compared to any kind of innate talent, luck or opportunity. Grit is a quality that Duckworth has found to be common to successful people in a variety of fields.

We spoke to Duckworth about grit on her recent visit to London.

On the tide of press around the book, there's been push-back on the idea's populism. Some seem to have run away with the idea on a superficial understanding of the hard research, pushing children to embrace hard work and drudgery but forgetting to engender the passion that may fuel the ability to do the 'hard thing'. Others seem to think that grit is the only thing that matters, at the expense of developing other equally important character traits. Overexcited schools in California plan to test students on grit, and Duckworth even reports of some schools instigating Grit Week programmes that push kids to increase standardised test scores.

Duckworth is the first to say we should be wary of buying into the hype around grit. It's a characteristic that is tricky to measure; perseverance shouldn't come at the expense of passion, and grit is just one of many character traits we should be encouraging. We shouldn't let enthusiasm for the idea get ahead of the evidence, or apply it to educational policy when it's too early to do so.

"One thing that worries me as a scientist and a teacher and a mother is that enthusiasm for character in general and grit in particular might get ahead of where the science, and even our knowledge of how to practise this, might be," says Duckworth. "The fact that we can in random-assignment experiments show changes in these characteristics doesn't mean we know exactly what we should do in the classroom, the school or, frankly, in the home."


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