The Problem with Teaching ‘Grit’

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Within education circles, the importance of teaching children ‘grit’ has ebbed and flowed like a bad fashion trend. And just like the velour jumpsuit you donated to Goodwill last year, it’s finally time to toss ‘grit’ out for good.

Here’s our issue with grit: it’s only being taught to the kids who don’t benefit from the current system.

It’s the kids who are most impacted by, rebel against, or criticize the embedded racism and classism of their institutions that are being told to have more grit, that school is hard for everyone. It’s not the Kylie Kardashians of the world who are taught to stop complaining.

Grit is the precursor to ‘civility.’ You know the civility that society demands Black folks to prioritize when protesting police brutality against Black men? The same civility America demands Central American migrants fleeing life threatening violence to exhibit after walking 7,000 miles? That civility.

Once you learn to not talk about injustice, to shut up and accept the world as is, you’re one step closer to no longer disrupting the system. You’re even on the path of being *polite*

Teaching grit indoctrinates kids into our oppressive hierarchies, silencing their protest. Grit says “tough luck kid — the world is going to suck for you, so you might as well learn how to survive it.”

What’s most ironic, is that children raised in poverty are forced to practice ‘grit’ everyday — in going to school and working a job, in seeing their parents work three jobs to get food on the table, in navigating childhood without stable housing or healthcare, in dealing with racism and discrimination.

These kids don’t need to be taught grit in school; they’re already experts.

Grit repeats the narrative that the biggest problem poor children face is their inability to deal with the ravages of poverty — as opposed to the systemic and institutional racism that bears down on our children, keeps our families in poverty, and batters our communities.

Teaching grit allows us not to own this system, not to take responsibility for the severe damage we’re inflicting on so many innocent kids.

Grit also romanticizes poverty as a character-building experience, instead of teaching kids the deprivation they experience is a direct byproduct of someone else having more than they could ever need.

If the Mark Zuckerbergs and Betsy DeVos’ of the world see poor children as potential role models for their own offspring, they lose sight of the enormous harms caused by a childhood without high-quality housing, health care, nutrition, and education.

They begin to believe that communities “want” to be poor, homeless, and unhealthy. A narrative that’s certainly supplemented Seattle’s growing homeless population — “they must want to be homeless!”

This grit discourse teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship.

Grit logic is as seductive as it is circular — “You need grit to pull yourself up from your bootstraps of course!” But most importantly, grit creates a purported path out of poverty that falls on poor kids of color and does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes.

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A blog by the Equity in Education Coalition — WA’s only civil rights organization focused on building a revolution in education.

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