GRIT: firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck

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When I was a kid it was common for a boy’s  first job  to be selling  Grit newspaper door to door.  It was a conservative, family-focused pubication which had been around since the late 1800’s.   And, yes, it was sold by boys.  It was part of the culture of the times that “newsboys” were employed to sell on street corners and at front doors.  The owners of the publication (Williamsport, PA) believed it was a way of incentivizing the entrepreneurial character of boys which would lead them into manhood with good preparation.  Obviously, from their perspective, girls didn’t need this, as they would be home cooking and cleaning house!

The magazine was what one would call “cluttered.”  The publishers determined that it would be a 14 page edition each time, so they crammed as much as they could into the pages.  The comics page was a chore, with panels sometimes overlapping panels of the previous or the following comic strip.  But the newspaper was full of articles and stories which captured the imagination of the reader and promised good times ahead.   It was dedicated to the “American Dream.”

The title of the newspaper, Grit, is taken from a commonly-used, informal word, grit, which means to have spunk…a desire to work hard and achieve things which can only be achieved by hard work.  It was the Protestant work ethic which pervaded the capitalistic nation and depended to a great degree upon the writings of Max Weber, who defined the capitalism of Europe and the New World as being more than an issue of sociology…it was an outgrowth of Protestant theology.   Dominant in the United States throughout its history, this theory promoted hard work, self-denial, and persistence under trial as the motivations for achieving the American Dream of success and independence.    It has not completely disappeared from American understanding, but it has to do battle with competing sociological principles which, in many ways, are more appealing to a less-energized society.

I find it interesting that the term GRIT, has re-emerged in our society in a seemingly-unrelated way, yet one which would be very comfortable as a bedfellow of the historic term.  The media has been obsessed over the past couple of days with a new educational program espoused by national educators.  They call it GRIT.  As I listen to the descriptions of the thrust, it is not dissimilar from the historic meaning.

GRIT , while not specifically a curriculum for schools, is rapidly emerging as just that.    It is a way of teaching and educating children to pursue interests and fascinations which occur within students.    Not so much an “imposed” learning, it is a methodolgy of isolating the energizing motifs unique to each student and building upon that motivation, using the subjects and opportunities which a school can make available.   That student, for instance, who likes to draw, is “drawn out” and encouraged to pursue that desire, not only applying courses in art, but the historic, mathematical, literary, practical tools as well which will assist the student in achieving success.   Grit is that amorphous characteristic that resides inside every student but may not be recognized or affirmed unless there is an intentional act on the part of the school to search for it.

One of the basic principles of GRIT is the recognition that every one of us will fail at something.   In other forms of educational planning, failures are highlighted and even assigned, mostly by using letter grades to show that this is an F (failure) attempt at displaying achievement.   That F may follow a student from elementary school to college.   It is a Scarlet Letter on the forehead of everyone who lets that incidental “failure” dominate his or her educational experience.    GRIT, on the other hand, acknowledges failures (common to everyone) and asks, “What have I learned from this unsuccesful experience?”  and “How can I process this “failure” to become a success in my life?”      It is a more intensive way of turning “a lemon into lemonade” in the educational life of a student.

It remains to be seen how this enthusiasm for a new educational approach succeeds.    Perhaps it will fall into the category of “The New Math” which bombed.  Or…just maybe…it will prove to be a boon to one’s educational experience.  There is no question that it will take a revolutionary way of teaching if it is to become successful.   That may be its biggest trial.


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