The Debate About the Need for Grit in Children

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Teaching students the skill “grit” is a very popular topic in the teaching field. However, whether students should be taught grit or not has being a debated topic among the education and child development field. On the one hand, experts, such as Angela Duckworth, suggest that grit is the common characteristic of outstanding people and useful to learn for young students. On the other hand, the critics of teaching grit argue with her statement. They suggest that the children in poverty already have it because they have been incredible tough to their lives.

Valerie Strauss, an educational writer and reporter, has been working at The Washington Post for thirty years. In Strauss’s article (2016), she indicates that teaching grit to students—especially students from low income, poverty or disadvantaged backgrounds—is not advisable. Moreover, the concept of grit can hurt them by beautifying their sufferings. Their living condition and the environment they grow up in are the main topics to help students be successful, which educators should focus on and make efforts to change. Strauss suggest (2016), “real harm can come from romanticizing poverty as a character-building experience.” When schools, middle-class and upper-class families teach their children, they simply ignore the other factors, such as low-quality housing, no health care, and starvation, brought up by the poor environment. Also, they may ignore the consequences made by these factors. It is unfair that people only simply take students’ successes and ignore the hardship from their lives.

Aisha Sultan is a nationally-known columnist and writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She also mentions her concern about teaching grit to students. Therefore, she starts the article with a story of a boy. His classmate, a little girl, criticized him for not following the teacher and paying attention to the lecture. However, she did not know that this boy’s family did not give him enough care and help to study hard. She suggests that educators should focus more on students’ mental health and teach them how to deal with these troubles. Sultan (2015) also criticizes the examiner system of grit for students. The questions to test grit usually are: “How long can I keep doing one thing?” or “Do I easily get distracted by the new goals and new ideas?” Besides these meaningless questions, schools need to ask students more about their physical health, living neighborhood, mental conditions, because these factors are as important as the grit for students. I agree with their concerns from two articles. In both two articles, they all bring up the “trauma” of our children. I agree with them at this point, for those kids who worry about lunch and bus tickets, or face family abuses by parents, they do not need to be spending time on learning grit. They already learn it from their difficult lives, and they probably have much more grit than we can imagine. Both authors pull out the idea of how people see students without advantaged background to be successful. If a student, from poverty, does a great job on somethings, people may praise this student who has grit. However, it more common to see students who struggled in their lives. Can we say these students do not have grit and have to learn it from school? I do not think so. What they really need is to change their living conditions—maybe nutrition, health insurance, and so on.

After reading different opinions of grit, I still think schools should teach grit in the elementary and middle school. However, we need to figure out how to teach grit to students with different backgrounds. For children in poverty, what they probably do not know is how to handle or use their grit to be successful in either academic works or other fields. Our schools and teachers should make efforts to help students to learn using their grit as the passions to their works. However, there are also some spoiled students live in caring families with no grit. They simply give up or change to other new goals if they face small failures and frustrations. It’s necessary for some students to systematically learn how to keep passion and perseverance on one thing. In the textbook, the author mentions the concepts of extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation (Santrock, 2013, p 470). Intrinsic motivation is the main point which drive students’ motivation to accomplish their goals.

Sometimes, it is easy to find interests or passions for one thing, but students need to know how to keep their interests and overcome the difficulties because it is impossible to achieve the goal by only interests. We need some extrinsic motivation, such as punishment, to urge us to do it. Besides grit, organization skills are the one of the most important skills which schools and parents can teach to students or to create a better learning environment for children. There are many ways for schools and teachers to help students enhance their organization skills. For example, every school can distribute the free planners of each semester, and then teachers can lead students to fill in their plans, such as an overall goal for the whole semester, and different small goals and schedules for each week. How to be organized in our lives, study, and work is a hard problem for some people. I think this is a characteristic which can be trained in childhood. Planning does not only mean I simply write down the words that I should do, but also means I am ready and I am prepared. The goal can be small or big, but the bigger goal must be composed by the small goals. It is important doing things in a thorough way, so students should know and accept that the goals cannot just simply be achieved by one step.

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