Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit (TEDTalk)

Like most of the TEDTalk videos that I feel worth saving remarks on in this wiki, the one presented by Angela Lee Duckworth (currently Associate Professor at UPenn) titled “The key to success? Grit” is very thought provoking and warranted being viewed several times – mainly because the causation-correlation relationship was quite fuzzy, albeit interesting. How synonymous are “grit” and “growth mindset”? To put it in terms I have used in other circumstances, “grit” describes the way someone achieves (ie, process) while “growth mindset” describes the condition or state in a particular node. Thus “grit” is a great observation highlighted by Prof Duckworth but it certainly is not the only way. With this in mind, I wonder whether “grit” is the best way – that is, should educators make focused and extraordinary effort to promote “grit”? Or are there better processes to highlight to students given the limited opportunity to have such concepts be embraced and embodied. Duckworth also mentions IQ (several times), social intelligence, good looks, and physical health – some which can be encouraged and others not.

Duckworth describes grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals…having stamina…living life like it’s a marathon.” She also mentions her grit questionnaires (I just tried her online questionnaire) which leads me to think that “grit” is intended to be a catchy catchphrase and what she really is studying is determination and focus (yeah, sounds plain). If so, we need to recognize the headwinds of limited long-term outlook (see for the current US score) and shortening-attention spans which are already short. Perhaps there are lessons in sports that can be transferred to classroom learning because we often hear about “grit” in the former.

Is grit the most likely solution to education’s aim to be perfect? Most likely not. It is perhaps a band-aid that provides hope while we search and experiment for more structural progress. The question remains whether the content-teaching-assessment framework will evolve (so far, it has been broadly digressing under the weight of greater competitiveness) and standards become more “human.”

Another “problem” (in quotes as I think this is not a deal breaker but actually a challenge to address) is how to make “grit” an actionable item for parents. Focus and determination are largely played out and influenced outside of school. We also recognize that parent negativity plays a significant role in diluting this positive grit trait.

Would I mention “grit” in a YCISL workshop? I think it would be too challenging to get it understood on a personal level – especially with an Asian group of students. It may be interesting to have the students try the grit questionnaire and see if a group discussion on personal enlightenment can ensue.

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