When I wrote “How Children Succeed: Who’s Telling the Story?”, I was struggling with the premise of Paul Tough’s new book, which is getting a lot of play these days. As I said, in the post: [Ira] Glass, and other media meisters, are spinning his notion of the importance of grit into yet another teaching strategy, the latest in a huge arsenal of silver bullets for a broken education system.”
So I was delighted to find company @ AT THE CHALK FACE. Here are a few excerpts from a recent post by Katie Osgood, who challenges Tough’s take on poverty, his ideas about character education, and the KIPPS schools, which teach same:
I teach on a child/adolescent inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital in Chicago. We teach very similar types of social skills (I refuse to call it “character” which adds an implicit deficit understanding of children’s behavior.) In the mental health field, clinicians and mental health workers have been teaching these skills for decades. This research is nothing new. As a trained special education teacher, I spent a large part of my education graduate program learning the direct instruction of social skills. Schools have emphasized social/emotional learning for as long as I have been a teacher.
KIPP’s approach to character education is eerily divorced from the reality of inner city children’s lives. They teach, reinforce through praise, grading, or punishment, traits like “grit, self-control, or optimism”. They even give out report cards to measure the unmeasurable “character” of children.
Osgood then goes on to tackle the “structural problems of poverty, citing a recent talk, in which Alex Kotlowitz, who wrote a blurb for Tough’s book, and is the author of There are No Children Here, asks Tough about poverty:
Kotlowitz: “So I read this book, and one of my fears, in some ways, is that people will read this book and think…all kids need is some ‘pluck’, some ‘grit,’ and they can get themselves out of there [poverty]. Does it in turn ignore/neglect, those larger structural issues that are clearly so important to these communities…?”
Tough: Yes, those kinds of neighborhoods could use all kinds of structural change…But I also really believe that education, maybe not the education we have right now, but education can reverse things very quickly. That if a kid grows up in that neighborhood and gets the right kind of support, the right kind of intervention, they can end poverty for themselves, um, right away, and it doesn’t have to take a huge change for the whole neighborhood.
What do you think of grit as an ed reform strategy? And what are the effects you’ve seen from poverty and toxic stress? Let me know.