Saturday, July 9, 2016

Are the Concepts of 'Grit' and 'Mindset' Attempts to Erase Importance of Social Justice & Equity?

While reading an essay entitled "Foucault, Power, and Organizations" by Stewart Clegg, I have begun to write and congeal thoughts about the new embrace by educationalists of the ideas of teaching students about "grit" and "mindsets." More and more books you pick up on educational methods and teaching practices seem to increasingly refere to Carol Dweck's ideas about "mindsets" and their role in success . (I have read her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.) Then there's all this discourse about "grit" as well. Though this concept goes back to Francis Galton, Duckworth, in her book, The Power of Passion and Perseverance, has more recently brought this term to the forefront.
When reading Clegg, he writes: "Bio-power normalizes through discursive formations of psychiatry, medicine, social work and so on. The terms of these ways of constituting the normal become institutionalized and incorporated into everyday life. Our own reflective gaze takes over the disciplining role as we take on the accounts and vocabularies of meaning and motive that are available to us as certain other forms of account are marginalized or simply erased out of currency."
Some questions:
Is the employment of the now "psychological concepts of 'mindset' and 'grit' a means of constituting a new normal using the psychological and educational sciences to marginalize ideas of social injustice and inequity?
Is the employment of these concepts in the educational apparatus a means to erase any thoughts or ideas of inequity and social injustice from our society?

Here's some my of my working thoughts on this matter:
The discourse of "grit" and "growth mindset" could function as a discourse that seeks to install a 'reflexive gaze" into students that asks them to disregard their circumstances in life, their experiences of poverty, misfortune and lives lived in inequity, and "get with the program."
It is an explicit "scientific" manifestation of the "bootstrap mythology" that propagates the idea that "if you work hard, then you will be successful."
It is a reflexive gaze which banishes any thought of inequity in society. It is directed at the souls of students to make them docile and compliant with the educational program.
It conditions individuals to ignore inequity in society and allows those who continue to stack the economic system in their favor to retain their pre-eminence.
It attempts to dispel any resistance to a socially unjust society. Ultimately it is a application of the psychological and educational sciences to the service of disciplining those who question the injustice of society.
I think perhaps before we jump on the "mindset" and "grit" teaching methodology bandwagon, we might want to ask some of these and other critical questions about what they really are doing with our students and our society.


  1. Those who don't believe that effort and perseverance lead to success, are failing to properly define success. Most of the world's greatest people are unknown to everyone but their own community of friends and family. They live modestly, and feel satisfied, fulfilled, and "success"ful most days.

    Those who would use the ideas of grit and mindset, to continue the social inequities and injustices, are no more or less evil than those who promote the solutions by whining, complaining, and justifying laziness and fixedness.

    Both extremes are advantageous to those who want to continue the cycle of inequity.

    1. Thanks Chris for your perspective. I would agree that it is one thing to use opposition to grit and mindsets to whine for laziness and doing nothing; it is quite another to argue that we have to be cognizant and critical that their use can be to perpetuate an unequal society. Those pushing teaching about "grit" and "mindsets" to students aren't doing anything that hasn't been done before. During the last "Gilded Age," from approximately 1870 to about 1900, there were books like the Horation Alger books (Ragged Dick is an excellent example) that were stories of misfortunate boys who because of "honesty, hardwork, and perseverence" were able to become "successful." These are the classic "rags-to-riches" stories whose purpose was to perpetuate the idea that through "grit" and "perseverence" one could succeed economically. Meanwhile, it was in this "Gilded Age" that income inequality soared with 2% of the wealthiest households having more than a third of the wealth, top 10% held 75% of wealth, and the bottom 40% had no wealth at all. Wealth was concentrated with a few individuals and families (as it is today). The Alger books, and many others like them, were used to perpetuate the idea of "grit" and "mindset," though the books did not use those terms. They were part of a larger "Gilded Age" culture that sought in many ways to perpetuate the economic conditions that were stacked in the favor of the wealthiest Americans. We have arrived at that point again, and I am saying that we must be cautious that our teaching students about "grit" and "mindsets" aren't helping perpetuate this same "Gilded Age" thinking. We must acknowledge that the wealth enjoyed by top 1% is not always gained through hard work and perseverence; many times it is gained from having an economic and political system that stacks "success" in their favor. From my perspective, I am suggesting that we not "uncritically" accept this idea of "grit" and "mindset." We must also be aware that this idea isn't new and was used once in our own past to perpetuate an unequal society economically. We must be aware that we are not doing that again.

      As for the idea that "Those who don't believe that effort and perseverance lead to success" having an incorrect definition of success, we must again be careful with that thinking as well. If we are promoting a meritorious society where success goes to those who work hard and persevere, we have to be careful in wanting to define "success" for our students. There again lies the rub. Do we teach students that in order to be successful, they need to set "realistic goals?" Is it our place to decide for our students what "realistic" is? Who gets to decide what "success" is in a system where "grit" and "determination" leads to success? I think we should be careful that we aren't teaching them "to accept their lot in life," which was once again one of the pillars of Gilded Age society thinking so long ago.

      In the end, I don't think I argue against the idea of the importance of "grit" and "mindsets." Perseverance, determination, and having a optimistic attitude and belief that one can be successful are important. Mindset is important, but I don't uncritically accept that they mean one is successful, no matter your definition of it. I also want to make sure to hold on to my critical stance of these ideas so that I am not unquestioningly perpetuating social injustice and an unequal society.