My Thoughts On Teaching Grit




I posted some new posters in my room today.  I think it is important to remind my students and myself what we should do in life.  Over time I have become a big believer that I was usually what was standing in the way of my success and I even sabotaged myself many times.  There are circumstances that make things harder for some than others, but in the end it is only what you choose to do with it.  Why did Carnegie become so rich?  He worked at it.  Why do some people get success and other do not?  Could be circumstances, but what about those who find a way?  What about those who create their own circumstances? 


This debate is blowing up right now because some are saying that teaching grit is racist.  How are teaching working class values racist?  What do you want instead?  A socialist society where we are all supposedly equal?  We still won’t be equal.  We all have talents, abilities, and cultures that make us different.  Plus, the world tried this once before and it was called the Soviet Union.  It failed.  People fled in droves because it was a failed model. 

And, socialism in Europe is struggling in some places like Sweden.  It is not perfect and neither is our system.  Socialism looks good on the surface, but where do you draw the line?  When should the will of the government and the collective outweigh the will of the individual?  I know I would rather live in a nation where I am given a level of choice. 

I teach the kids about grit.  I teach that a growth mindset is more important than anything else.  I know from a personal level this is the only way to go.  I was never a kid who was extraordinarily gifted at anything.  I was about as average as they come and I recently looked at my PSAT score and saw I did poorly.  I scored in a very low percentile on many things.  If no one told me to keep trying I probably would have given up.  I thought many times about quitting school or just taking an easier job.  Did I even want to go to college?  Sometimes I think the only reason I did was to please my parents, but I am happy I did.  Even if I did take out massive amounts of loans because I had no college fund.  I get to work with kids every day and try to show them how to keep on moving.  To keep on trying. 

So the only reason I am here now is because I always tried to do my best and because I never gave up.  I had to retake classes.  Math and I have done some serious battling over the years and I barely made it.  Economics kicked my butt and now is one of my more enjoyable topics to talk about in class.  My peers were always better at school than I was, but I figured it out.   

Thank God I had people who told me to keep trying.  To keep moving.  To keep advancing, even if it was slower than many other kids.  I am so grateful for all those people in my life.

I understand the world is not a fair place and that some people have a hard time getting out of a hole that might have been created by someone else.  But what is the alternative?  What choice do we have?  Tell the kids, “Hey, guess what?  Achieving success in this nation is insurmountable?  No matter what you do you will never be able to succeed.  We just need to make sure we make everyone equal.  Then we will be happy.  Hard work?  That gets you nothing.  Someone will just take it all away from you.”  If this is the case then what do we all have to live for?  We might as well end it now or leave to go somewhere else.    

We as teachers are the only ones who are always in the corner of these kids.  We have to be a positive force.  We have to make them see that an abundant life is possible.  But only if we want it to be.  The world is a negative place full of scary things.  As my Grandfather used to say, “There is no utopia.”  But we don’t have to live in a place that is horrendous.  We can build a society where individual choice is respected, while at the same time offer supports to those who really need them.  We can build abundance in many different ways that do not only include money.  We can build joy around our family life.  We can build joy in the activities we do.  We can build joy in our relationships.  We can build a joyous life that feels great to live.  What is the alternative?  A nation of people so pumped up full of escapes like drugs, TV, and so many other activities that nothing productive is accomplished.  Shudder... 

I have spent many of my years battling a negative attitude that has probably bordered on depression.   I have a hard time in the winter especially.  I have battled this since I was at least in the 7th grade.  I let the regrets get to big and recycled them over and over in my head.  There was a time I felt like I just wanted to lay down and disappear.  What was the point?  Why should I care?  Why should I keep trying?  I am tired of living this way.  I am tired of the world feeling like it sucks.   There is good there.  I just had to go find it.  Some of the joy is just so small it takes a magnifying glass to locate it.  As a nation we need to try to find this and begin from there.  Discover what we do have and build from it.      

I agree with those who say the US is a hard place to live.  You can be really successful or you can fail hard.  But isn't that the beauty of it?  Isn't that what makes this nation great?  You have the choice to try.  No one is telling you how to live your life.  You can work at it and try to grow or you can just sit there and languish.  It really is your choice.

I suppose some people will disagree with me and might even come after me for writing these thoughts, but I am scared to think of a future where no one has any motivation.  No one has an opportunity to feel the benefits of working and building something with their soul.  Human beings need struggle.  We need it to grow.  If you take out some of the struggle then what is the point to living?

So, I am not going to stop trying to tell kids to keep working and trying.  I am not going to sit there smug and tell them they are lazy.  I am going to try to show them the benefits of hard work and trying to grow.  I am going to remind them that overall how successful they are is related in some way to how much they try.  Sure some will be better at some things than others, but success doesn't have to be the same for everyone.  Success for me in math was a C and I was never going to get an A, but man did I feel good when I got that C after all the work I put in.    

I would rather tell kids not to give up and live life than just say, “Hey you have been held down.  Just complain long enough and hope that someone will come along and help you.”  It just isn't going to happen.  In America there are few Good Samaritans.  Most people will look the other way.  The only way to get out of the ditch is to drag yourself out one inch at a time.  For me this fact is inspirational and I believe we should celebrate every inch we make it.  


I am not going to stop trying to teach decent human values that include hard work and effort.  If we take this out of the equation we are left with a depressed human wasteland.  And, that is just not a place I want to live.  

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