On Grit

Did you, in your childhood and against your will, ever go to school hungry for extended periods of time? If no, then you lack the qualifications to comment on whether or not it is possible to do that and you lack the qualifications to “teach” anyone how to do so. However for the sake of shutting this nonsense down I’m going to explain why this grit conversation is not a good use of time and resources.

I am a remarkably, unusually, insanely resilient individual. I grew up crazy (not Fox News poor) poor, I had a mother with a substance abuse problem, I was severely physically, emotionally and sexually abused for the first 13 years of my life, I helped raise my siblings, I grew up in poor, dangerous communities that lacked access to basic services, I have a very serious disability and I went to Stanford. There are very few people in the entire world that have a similar profile. There is no one in the world who would love it more than I would if it were possible to teach people to do that, but it is not. It is incredibly insulting and offensive for me to have people who grew up with privilege trying to argue with me about whether or not that is true. Would you go up to Harriet Tubman and argue that she proves that slaves should have just freed themselves? So then why would you tell me that anyone can overcome poverty like I did. Most privileged people can’t into schools like Stanford and getting into a school like Stanford is one of the very few, limited ways to escape poverty.

That would be fine with me if it served a larger purpose but the grit narrative is just more of the “poor people need to work harder” in cuter language. It is possible on an individual level to use my narrative to encourage individual students to do well, I do it very successfully all the time and I’m exceptionally good at it. That is fine, but that is very different from acting like it is acceptable education policy to promote that. It is not a policy position, it is something you use as triage to do your best to help as many kids as you can.

Some people are making this argument because they work with privileged children and have noticed that they don’t deal with challenges well. This is a problem for privileged children but that is a specific population and it’s an incredibly intellectually foolish thing to use that and apply it to the poor, which is why it is so important for us to talk about class explicitly in education.

“You did it, so they can.” Perhaps the thing that bothers me most is that the argument is basically: because an extraordinary individual was able to get past all our intentional barriers we are off the book for removing barriers. It is basically, gee, sorry you had to suffer so much as a child but you know, I like shinies and it wasn’t so bad so I’m not going to do anything about it. I find it especially aggravating when people who work on social justice issues promote this and then say: well we can’t eliminate these problems so I guess we better teach some kids how to comply with their oppression. Calling that lazy would be generous. That is not good enough. So on an individual level, use my story if it helps the kids but “buck up and learn to comply” is not a policy. Policies would be things like raising taxes on top earners, increasing the minimum wage, helping workers organize, increasing funding to education or providing child care. I see very few people spending their time, energy and resources arguing and fighting for those things. There is no excuse for that anymore. You can give motivational speeches to my kids when you are using your platform to fight for policies that eliminate barriers. Until then, have a seat because, as my mom would say, grown folks is talking.

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