Grit, optimism and other buzzwords in the way of education

Angela Duckworth was recently awarded a $625,000 “no strings attached” MacArthur genius grant for her research on “Grit,” Forbes reports. Along with perseverance, initiative, and optimism, grit is one of the hottest buzzwords in K-12 education. Many teachers, policy makers, and reformers are shifting their focus from cognitive skills to character attributes. Supposedly, these “21st Century Skills” correlate more directly to an individual’s long term success. Unrelated to new technologies, or digital literacy, 21st Century Skills are all about desirable character traits. I’m all for a move away from dependence on standardized test scores, but the focus on “character” is suspect. Paul Tough writes, “We have been focusing on the wrong skills and abilities in our children, and we have been using the wrong strategies to help nurture and teach those skills.” In his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Tough celebrates the KIPP charter schools. The KIPP schools use a “Character Growth Card.” Teachers rate students’ demonstration of a series of attributes, such as social intelligence, gratitude, and curiosity, on a scale from one to five. This report card is central to KIPP’s pedagogical strategy…

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