Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gifted or Gritty?

What if our current obsession with talent, achievement, and parental engagement has little bearing on whether or not students go on to actually succeed in life? Paul Tough's NY Times article on the relationship between failure and success in children looks at how our emphasis on coddling kids might be hampering them later in life:
The most critical missing piece, Randolph explained as we sat in his office last fall, is character — those essential traits of mind and habit that were drilled into him at boarding school in England and that also have deep roots in American history. “Whether it’s the pioneer in the Conestoga wagon or someone coming here in the 1920s from southern Italy, there was this idea in America that if you worked hard and you showed real grit, that you could be successful,” he said. “Strangely, we’ve now forgotten that. People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that.”
Now that it's 17 years and counting since finishing graduate school, I've had a chance to see which students succeeded and which didn't, I would have to say that those who went the farthest were by no means the most gifted. They were the ones who worked the hardest and learned the lessons that allowed them to advance in a difficult and changing world. They were also the ones who never gave up.

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