'We Need to Be Gritty About Getting Our Kids Grittier'

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist who studies the popular education buzzword "grit," has won a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
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The word "grit" is ubiquitous in education today. It's in the subtitle of New York Times contributing writer Paul Tough's latest book, How Children SucceedIt's one of the seven character traits (along with "zest," "gratitude," and others) that KIPP charter schools try to instill in their students. Tufts and DePaul University look for it when evaluating applicants. Like many buzzwords, "grit" doesn't have a straightforward definition, but the Chronicle of Higher Education's description is a good place to start: "the habit of overcoming challenges, of learning from mistakes instead of being defeated by them."

Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced that it's awarding a "genius grant" to one of grit's biggest champions: Angela Duckworth. An associate professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth studies the personality traits that lead to success in the classroom and in life. According to MacArthur's description of her work:

Duckworth’s work primarily examines two traits that she demonstrates predict success in life: grit—the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals—and self-control—the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses. A major difference between the two qualities is that grit equips individuals to pursue especially challenging aims over years and even decades, while self-control operates at a more micro timescale in the battle against what could be referred to as “hourly temptations.”

In her early work, Duckworth and colleagues devised empirical measures of grit and self-control in both children and adults and established their predictive validity for a number of dimensions of success. They found that these traits predict objectively measured success outcomes, even when controlling for cognitive ability.

Here's a TED talk Duckworth gave earlier this year describing when she first realized the importance of grit, and what she sees as the next phase of grit studies: figuring out how to increase a person's grittiness.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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