GRIT: The Secret to Academic & Life Success?
Knowledge, skills and critical thinking might be important ingredients to student success in college and in life, but they can take you only so far. What’s emerging as a hot topic in education – and is reflected in a new initiative at SMC – is the crucial role of grit in determining success.
Political science professor Eric Oifer, who is also immediate past president of the SMC Academic Senate, has studied the issue of grit and came up with SMC’s newly launched initiative GRIT – Growth, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity.
Oifer makes a compelling case for fostering grit – not only in students, but in the faculty as well.
By Eric Oifer
You know why the Higgs boson particle is nicknamed the God particle? It is so named not because it has anything to do with God, but because it was so difficult to find. It took physicists over 45 years to find this thing proposed by Peter Higgs in 1964. The search was so difficult and infuriating that one of the scientists wanted to call it the goddamn particle. Figuring that would not go over well, they instead called it the God particle.
You may think that the ultimate success of these scientists was due to their knowledge, skills and critical capacities. But, if you think that, you’d be wrong. Scientific knowledge, skills and critical capacities were necessary conditions for such an achievement but they carried the scientists only just so far. What translated those very real but also limited capacities into success was grit, pure and simple. Over 45 years of small successes and even bigger disappointments, the scientists persevered and, in the end, they succeeded in a major triumph of both human intellect and resourcefulness. What turned the goddamn particle into the God particle was the researchers' grit, defined by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth as perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
Since the dawn of education, educators have been looking for the key to student success, which has proved as elusive as the Higgs boson. Only two months after the announced discovery of Higgs boson, The New York Times Magazine published its Education Issue, titled “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” In it, writer Paul Tough reveals that grit, rather than test scores and grades, is the key to students’ success in school and life. Citing recent education research and practice in the field, he concludes that student success is rooted in attributes like grit, perseverance, dedication, self-control and engagement. We may have found our God particle in the form of GRIT.
SMC’s new GRIT (Growth, Resilience, Integrity, Tenacity) Initiative facilitates student achievement. By fostering students' perseverance, sense of purpose, connection and engagement, the GRIT Initiative enhances a student's capacity to flourish academically and personally. The challenge we face as educators is how to teach and reward grit. We will have to swim upstream against a torrent of skill-based tests that reward memorizing content, grading that rewards regurgitation, and a curriculum defined largely by what needs to be learned rather than by why it needs to be learned.
To meet this challenge we will be called upon to restructure our courses to reward process rather than merely product. Our syllabi will have to offer our students the hope and the promise that if they persevere, they can and will succeed. We will have to offer students a greater number of opportunities to learn and we will have to muster the patience to give more feedback and, yes, more encouragement. This means we will need to become the kinds of teachers who students trust and for whom they want to do well. In short, when our students ask us the hardest question we teachers can be asked, -- “What for?” – we will be able to answer it and urge them forward.
Personally and professionally, I have been changed by my commitment to fostering grit. More than ever, I feel the hopeful impetus to help students find meaning in their lives and reach their fullest potential. I have moved beyond primum non nocere, the medical profession's call to "first, do no harm." I am compelled to do good by helping my students develop into the kind of human beings they want to be – and the 21st century problems demand they be. In helping them, I am also helping myself for I know that in trying to help my students mine their grit, I have found my own. Being an educator is a horrifying blessing, carrying both enormous responsibility and glorious hope. I am up to the calling and I have confidence that you, my colleagues, are too.
Eric Oifer came up with SMC’s new GRIT initiative