Grit, a key to success?

I have watched this TED talk during weekend for the second time when I was browsing TED to find a good talk for my free time. In this talk, Professor Duckworth of University of Pennsylvania presented her research about the key success in learning and education. The idea of her PhD dissertation came to her mind when she was a teacher in New York public school for seven grader in mathematics. She learned that the thing matters in success of her students is beyond their IQ and their talent. She later on called that thing as “grit”.  Dr Duckworth’s research is looking at learning from psychological and motivational perspective. Through her research in various contexts, she finds out that one characteristic is a significant predictor of success which she called it grit. Grit, as she defined, is a motivation, passion, and perseverance for a long term goals.  Grit means working hard to get future into the reality. She describes grit as a point of view of “life as a marathon not sprint. ” Her research currently is to find new ways to make people specially kids to be gritter.

As a graduate student interested in education issues and working on inequality in education achievement, I think her idea is a novel approach to think about learning. In my research I try to measure inequality of opportunity in education outcome. I try to decompose the effect of various circumstances such as gender, parental education, socio-economic background of the student, and his/her community characteristics from his/her effort/luck. The idea is, your outcome should only be depend on your effort and not your circumstances such as your race or gender. The index I have calculated is called  inequality of opportunity (IOP) in education. Using Dr. Duckworth terminology, grit is a characteristic of a kid which is under her control, the same as effort, and as a result it is not part of IOP index. My point is, our current education system is not a system which is encouraging kids to be gritty. In fact in a system which your success measures with standard test scores and your grades for midterms and final tests, getting bad score in one test, can easily kill your motivation and grit. We live in a world that we need to have solid motivation for a long term to obtain our goals. In this world, it is important for every person to empower herself not to be disappointed very easily, however, neither in school nor in college, kids have no chance to learn about motivation and grit. We trained our kids to care about their test scores. If you got 95 in a course, you would call successful. While getting 95 is not necessarily means you are a gritty and motivated person. Maybe you have good IQ and could learn stuff very easily but without strengthening your passion, your perseverance for a long term goals, and in one word, without being gritty, could you be successful in long term both in your life and in your career? It seems the answer is “no” and unfortunately our education system not only teach to be gritty, it sometimes kills our motivation too.


In addition to this issue, I think about motivation and grit as a tool to help students who leave behind to improve their situation and outcomes. My idea is, if in a community race or gender (for instance being female and being black) has a great influence on a student education outcome, training female students or ethnic minority students to be grittier and be self-motivated can help them to improve their learning and education outcome and decrease the gap in their outcome with other students. In this view, encouraging kids to be passionate about their  goals can decrease IOP in education outcome.



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