The Weak Case for Grit

It might surprise you to find out how little evidence there is to support the idea that boosting students’ “grit”—their propensity to tenaciously attack difficult problems they encounter rather than give up—is a reliably effective way to improve their school performance or to close long-standing education gaps. After all, you’ve probably heard otherwise. Grit is everywhere. By the time you read this, it will have been a golden child of the world of education for well over a decade. It’s a sexy, appealing idea: grit predicts success, grit can be measured, and grit can be improved.

Grit’s popularity is largely due to the work of the concept’s inventor and chief evangelist, Angela Duckworth. A MacArthur-grant-winning social psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, she has made very bold claims about the importance of grit for years, and those claims have been echoed by other big names, too. In her 2013 TED talk, which has almost 21 million views as of August 2020, she presents grit as a new way of looking at, among other things, the old problem of school achievement: “In education, the one thing we know how to measure best is IQ. But what if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily?”

She made similar claims elsewhere. “My lab has found that this measure beats the pants off I.Q., SAT scores, physical fitness and a bazillion other measures to help us know in advance which individuals will be successful. The cover of her bestselling 2016 book, , has the sort of blurb most publicists could only dream of. “Psychologists have spent decades searching for the secret of success,” enthuses Daniel Gilbert, the Harvard psychologist, “but Duckworth is the one who found it.” secret of success.

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