Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Perils of "Grit"


Many proponents of Data Driven education reforms, including Arne Duncan,and NY Education Commissioner John King have spoken of the need to toughen up children to prepare them for the Global Marketplace- especially children growing up in poverty-and have claimed their policies were designed to impart characteristics like "Grit" and ability to perform under pressure.
There is a certain cruelty and heartlessness that underlies this approach to schooling, especially in low income communities. Isn't poverty pressure enough. Shouldn't school be a refuge FROM pressure for students living in high stress environments- a place where they are nurtured, comforted and loved?
But even if you think Grit and ability to perform under pressure are important traits in some contexts, you have to question their relationship to school policies like Common Core and high stakes testing. As a former coach known for pushing, his players hard, I am profoundly skeptical that a one size all approach to education builds character in the way its proponents suggest.
During my twenty years of coaching in neighborhood sports leagues in Brooklyn, I approached each player as an individual and developed strategies to build up their skills based on their unique learning styles and aptitudes. I NEVER gave my players the same performance goals for anything other than team work and cooperation, or in the case of basketball, learning offenses and defenses. But if my teams won- and they almost always did- it was because of the individual skill instruction I did on the side and the encouragement I gave each player to perform to the best of THEIR ability.
Pressure without respect for individual differences in learning styles and skill levels is, in my view, a prescription for educational disaster. It is the stick without the carrot.