Turns out he was probably right.
The more feedback I received on the "Tough/Tough Kids" concept, the uglier, the more destructive, the more vicious the whole "movement" by America's elite seems to me...
Just this morning educators told me on Twitter that teaching "grit" was essential because of "mistakes made by the US governments "No Child Left Behind" law" and because of the pace of contemporary life. Even someone I think of "as smart" as @coolcatteacher - Vicki Davis - jumps in the water with pro-eugenics professor Angela Duckworth and brings "teaching grit" into her classroom.
|Right up front on her website, queen of "grit" Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania|
joins herself to the theories of notorious Eugenecist Francis Galton.
"Be careful," I like to say, "who you're jumping into bed with."
|Horatio Alger's 1869 Pluck and Luck. |
Alger sold the "grit" myth for half a
century via books like Ragged Dick,
Brave and Bold, Sink or Swim.
"Irish beggars are to be met everywhere, and they are as ignorant and vicious as they are poor. They are lazy, improvident and unthankful; they fill our poorhouses and our prisons, and are as brutish in their superstition as Hindoos." - Toronto Globe 1851."Catholics, and most specifically, the Irish, were frequently vilified in the curriculum of New York’s public schools. Public schools used textbooks that portrayed the Irish immigrants as “extremely needy, and in many cases drunken and depraved…subject for all our grave and fearful reflection,”' PBS notes, "nearly seventy-five percent of our criminals and paupers are Irish," said Harper's Weekly in 1860. There is simply no doubt that the Irish who arrived in America between 1840 and 1910 - the Catholic Irish as opposed to the Protestant Irish (Scots-Irish) who arrived earlier - lacked "grit" in the minds of political leaders, religious leaders, journalists, and teachers. They were lazy - amazingly they need not even get to a specific Sunday church service at a specific time. They were easily distracted - did you know that in their churches they move a lot and have all these things to look at? They weren't motivated - wow! they like being home or with their community more than working - they're satisfied with low paying municipal jobs like being police officers! They were illiterate - in their churches there aren't prayer books! They don't all read the same thing at the same time like in our churches/schools!
|Lacking "grit," the 19th Century|
Irish immigrants could simply
not be assimilated.
"Grit is simple – it is developed by situations that require it.," Vicki Davis writes, "We all have tough in our life – but what do we do with it? Do we grit our teeth and push forward or do we fall back and lay on our floppy cushion with excuses in our mouths?" "I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one," is a negative phrase in Angela Duckworth's almost comical "grit analysis" (on which I received a 1.75, or "grittier than 1% of the US population") because we know, thank God, that Samuel Clemens stuck with that riverboat career and Albert Einstein fully committed himself to his Patent Office clerkship.
Let's be clear. What Duckworth, Tough, even Davis are referring to is essential to traditional school success. But the word they are seeking is not "grit" - as I said before, the kids they want to give "grit" to are the "grittiest" kids on earth - that's how they've survived - the word these "grit proponents" are seeking is "compliance." They want kids working hard at what they themselves value, which is, apparently, "white middle class conformity."
"Grit," school leader Dave Meister says, "is simply a term by which the privileged try distinguish their behavior from those they define as unworthy."
@pammoran @irasocol Grit is simply a term by which the privileged try distinguish their behavior from those they define as unworthy
— Dave Meister (@DaveMeister_) January 23, 2014
And this is the key. There is a reason Angela Duckworth quotes and relies on one of the "fathers" of the Eugenics Movement. Like IQ scores, like the Prussian Model of age-based school grades and grade level standards, like the institutionalized racism of certain dress codes or the KIPP SLANT formula, "grit" is a way of limiting the opportunity of those who might - measured by their own standards - compete educationally and economically with the children of rich people.
Let's go back to Dr. Thomas:
"Children in poverty line up at the starting line with a bear trap on one leg; middle-class children start at the 20-, 30-, and 40-meter marks; and the affluent stand at the 70-, 80-, and 90-meter marks.Because this is what kids need. Slack. This is what I was discussing, without the word, at the end of my last post. Because I thought about this over the last couple of days: What "grit" did Bill Gates demonstrate when he quit Harvard because his dad hooked him up with an amazing contact at IBM and his buddy found an operating system Gates could buy for almost nothing and sell for a fortune? What "grit" did George W. Bush show when he walked away from a National Guard commitment because, suddenly, he was more interested in a political campaign? What "grit" Barack Obama show evidence of as the child of a PhD student, with very supportive grandparents, at a multi-ethnic private school in Hawaii?
"And while gazing at education as a stratified sprint, “no excuses” reformers shout to the children in poverty: “Run twice as fast! Ignore the bear trap! And if you have real grit, gnaw off your foot, and run twice as fast with one leg!”
"These “no excuses” advocates turn to the public and shrug, “There’s nothing we can do about the trap, sorry.”
"What is also revealed in this staggered 100-meter race is that all the children living and learning in relative affluence are afforded slack by the accidents of their birth: “Slack” is the term identified by Mullainathan and Shafir as the space created by abundance that allows any person access to more of her/his cognitive and emotional resources."
What "grit" does the Yale University student show when she calls home for more money from dad? What "grit" do upper middle class parents teach their kids when they drive them to school? When they go talk to their teachers about problems? When they provide money for sports lessons or music lessons? See Paul, Angela, Vicki, I'm confused, because all those I'm asking about have succeeded or will succeed famously...
What the people I mention above have is "slack" - the moments when necessity is not the sole driver. "The cost [of "scarcity" - the primary element in "grit theory"] is an undue focus on the necessity at hand, which leads to a lack of curiosity about wider issues, and an inability to imagine longer-term consequences. The effect of this scarcity-generated "loss of bandwidth" has catastrophic results..." The Guardian writes in a book review on the topic. The "struggle" that Tough, Duckworth, Davis, et al want for kids is the creation of "scarcity" among children already scarred by "scarcity." The "grit" they discuss imposes "scarcity" by focusing kids on the problems, the deficits, "the mountain" as Davis puts it, instead of the solutions, or, what we might call, the highway we try to build to our students' futures.
And now let me go back to Peter Høeg's Borderliners, but via a quote from my older sister a long long time ago when I called her desperate for a couple of hundred bucks to fix my car. She said, "no problem, I'll mail the check now," and then she said, "see, that's the difference now. I can help, and so you're ok. For a lot of people, the car breaks, they can't fix it, they lose their job, they end up homeless." Living in Brooklyn in the late 1970s, I saw evidence of what she meant on every corner. She had given me "slack," and no matter how much "grit" I might have had - no matter how much "grit" Angela Duckworth might think I have - only "slack" could save me in that moment. (I suppose I only got 1.75 on Duckworth's scale because I listed myself as "white" and well educated, without that I would probably have been closer to 0)
And so this is why the scene I alluded to in Peter Høeg's Borderliners has always been crucial to me:
"We were going to shower. We were last. Valsang was standing on his side of the window. Humlum went in ahead of me. He walked straight through the warm shower as though it did not exist and in under the first of the cold ones. And there he stayed. He did not move, he just stood there, while his skin first went red and then white. He looked at his feet, I knew he stayed there so that I could stay in the warm shower and not be made to get a move on. I had shut my eyes, the warm water closed up, like a wall. I had never stood for as long before. - Peter Høeg, Borderliners"Slack," "space that doesn’t force anyone to consider trade-offs," is the magical alternative to the "grit" and misery proposed for children by The New York Times, by Paul Tough, by the University of Pennsylvania's Angela Duckworth, by the University of Chicago School of Economics, by the American Economic Elites.
And "slack" is the idea I was reaching for, and found most wonderfully recalled in the work of Høeg.
In my understanding of "slack," "Negative Space," not the SLANT concepts of KIPP nor the "misery index" of Duckworth, is the path to opportunity. "this is really about allowing students to breathe. "It was a kind of no-man’s-land, a place of possibility," Beller says of Manhattan's [Central Park], and I thought of all the "places of possibility" of my youth, from an abandoned military base to an abandoned railway station, from the catwalk above the stage in my Junior High's auditorium to the odd turret spaces which ended the corners of my high school, from the long corridor linking the high school library to the rest of the building - broken into caves by panels displaying artwork - to the tops of the stair towers overlooking the river in the Kresge Art Center at Michigan State. These were places I could breathe, dream, fantasize, imagine, hope, cry. I thought of how a curve of rock along a winter beach might be the safest place I knew at age 13, or how the space in front of the air-conditioner on the roof of Macy's might have been the most intimate at 15," I wrote 18 months ago.
So we need to call out the "grit lobby" and their Eugenics belief system: When people put out things like, Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania). Christopher Peterson (University of Michigan), Michael Mathews (United States Military Academy), and Dennis Kelly (United States Military Academy) [pdf] and write: "Why do some individuals accomplish more than others of equal intelligence? In addition to cognitive ability, a list of attributes of high-achieving individuals would likely include creativity, vigor, emotional intelligence, charisma, self-confidence, emotional stability, physical attractiveness, and other positive qualities..." we need to point out that what they are pursuing is social reproduction and the preservation of wealth and power for elites. We have to point out that a religious paradigm of behaviors is not to be confused with a science of educational opportunity.
But most of all, we need to fight to do for all of our children what Oscar Humlum did for the narrator in the Borderliners passage. He interrupted the brutal industrial flow and gave a child a moment of abundance.
My God, isn't that our job?
- Ira Socol