The Ted talk above is from Angela Duckworth, a Professor at U.Penn who is fast emerging, it seems to me, as an important thought leader and inspirational figure for those of us in the field of educating adolescents (and others).
Having just finished Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, I believe Duckworth stands out significantly in that book (she’s the star); she offers a series of perceptive insights and the research evidence which underpin the book, as captured in its subtitle, Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.
I love the quote Duckworth shares in the talk above from Darwin, which conveys much of her working thesis:
I have always maintained that, excepting fools, men did not differ that much in intelligence, only in zeal and hard work, and I still think this is an eminently important difference.
In the Tough book, Duckworth is quoted on her alternative from the norm view of school reform:
the problem, I think is not only the schools but the students themselves. Here’s why: Learning is hard. True, learning is fun, exhilarating, and gratifying, but it is also often daunting, exhausting and sometimes discouraging.
To help low performing students, educators and parents must first realize that character is at least as important as intellect.
I worry too that we forget how hard learning is, for many much of the time. Yet at the same time, this quote only partially represents her broader argument, because when you dig deeper, she is equally worried about, or at least her research reveals that we should be equally worried, about learning that is too easy for our students, learning that is about listening to the lecture, reading the book, and “cranking out” the paper, year after year, for at least 8 of them, and then coming out of college and realizing how much more is required of success.
There is also, and I want to return to this in a subsequent post, a fascinating discussion of “under-matching,” in education: sometimes some students attend colleges which aren’t challenging enough to them, local state or community colleges overwhelmed by numbers and by needed remediation for many, but not all of their students, and those that are more prepared for the challenge are under, not over, whelmed, and, bored and disengaged, drop away. But undermatching can occur in other dimensions too, when students perfectly competent at cranking it out and “doing school,” as Pope calls it, get by but don’t transcend.
In my own observations of highly intellectually talented students at top California prep schools, I saw far too often a stultifying dullness in what was being provided for them, resulting in an apathy about genuine learning that was heartbreaking and which is ultimately dis-serving. In my own recollection of college, it was only a six months or so before I dropped out, not literally at all, but in effect, transferring the largest part of my time and energy to campus activism in various forms and not doing enough for my own learning.
From her collaboration with the legendary positive psychology guru Marty Seligman, whose work has long been highly important to me, Duckworth, as Tough explains, has derived a list of 7 key traits of character in this context, and note the way this is understood as performance character, not moral character:
Grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.
In my study of 21st century learning, I’m familiar with the emphasis placed on curiosity, (see Wagner), and social intelligence and all its significance for collaboration. I’ve also seen optimism listed and highlighted in the recent Marzano work on Teaching and Assessing 21st century skills, and gratitude is at the heart of much of positive psychology and the broader happiness movement, which I write about and praise regularly.
But for Duckworth, the twin towers on this list are self-control and grit, and the discussion of their importance in Tough should be required reading. (more…)