Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Reviewed by Karen D. Koch
Grit. What is it? Do I have it? Do my children have it? If not, how does one get grit? Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance is a fascinating read that I believe homeschool parents will find useful, particularly when combined with a spiritual worldview. I recommend that you and your older children read it.
Duckworth, Ph.D., is a 2013 MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a long and distinguished list of clients and distinguished recommendations for Grit as well as a popular TED Talks to her credit, but aside from all that fanfare, this is a thought-provoking read. In essence, Duckworth set out to determine why some people succeed and others don’t. She chose to see whether there were accurate predictors for eventual success of failure. She found one factor, grit, to be the main deciding factor.
Of course I submit that secular worldviews and spiritual worldviews will define “success” quite differently, but Duckworth makes a compelling case that grit, an unwavering persistence and not raw talent, is the best determinant of future success. This is good news for those of us who don’t count ourselves among the geniuses of the world. Words like perseverance, determination, steadfastness, and more come to mind.
Using her “grit scale” test for outcome prediction (test in book), Duckworth predicted, with amazing accuracy, which candidates would drop out of West Point during their first summer training, called The Beast. She includes many anecdotes and interesting stories (for the kids as well) as people who were simply passionate, persistent, and applied great effort in learning/training/achieving their goals. She cites people such as Julia Child, who couldn’t cook when she first moved to France, but became America’s first real celebrity TV chef and/or author of the best-selling Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Duckworth studied athletes, cartoonists, scientists, writers, and more for examples of equally gritty and ultimately successful people.
High Expectation, High Support
I enjoyed this book. Fun anecdotes and examples aside, though, I turned my thoughts to how this applies to homeschool and my children in general. Duckworth provides a chapter in which she explored the parenting model that brings out the best “results,” in this area. She found that parenting with high expectations along with high support and encouragement was the best predictor of successful outcomes. This included things like not letting children quit mid-season in a sport, for example, and making them stick with certain activities or academics for a decided-upon time. She did include reasons to quit, such as changing interests, etc. acknowledging that it takes time to find your passion, and various experiences help children in this endeavor.
In my experience, I’ve found that homeschool parents do much of this naturally, particularly in giving their kids a high level of love, support, and involvement. Duckworth never mentioned homeschooling, but I’m encouraged that the involved parenting is a good indicator.
Effort Counts Twice
I particularly liked Duckworth’s conclusion that effort counts twice, meaning more than raw talent or “genius.” Her equation states: talent x effort = skill and skill x effort= achievement. What I as a homeschool parent love about this is that ANY child, regardless of aptitude or giftedness, can be encouraged to try and try again, using different teaching approaches as necessary. Effort over time generally yields improvement, particularly in a loving and supportive homeschool family. That improvement provides the child more encouragement to continue trying. So for you mamas telling your child for what feels like the 2878th time that the letter “b” goes this way and the letter “d” goes that way, take heart.
This book also reminded me that I need to let my children struggle more often through things and not allow them to give up. As a recovering enabler, I tend to want to make life easier for everyone, forgetting that the struggle itself often provides the eventual strength. Case in point. We had a pile of wood to stack the other day. My 8-year-old was whining about having to help, so I thought about excusing him, but instead I made him help until we were done. Afterwards he told me, with a bit of a little-boy swagger, “That was kind of fun.” I’m pondering ways to provide more “opportunities to overcome,” to my kids.
I made the kids take piano lessons, but when child #1 started playing guitar and loved that more, we agreed he could drop piano. Child #2 did the same playing bass instead of piano. Child #2 injured his wrist the day before the state golf tournament. That time he insisted on playing through the pain because he’d worked so hard to qualify. After pushing the kids through to complete science fair boards and projects all those years ago, my college freshman son said his first poster creation and presentation in class was easy. But even as I write these examples, I see many areas where I failed to hold my kids to a higher standard to push through and complete things.
As a Christian mom, my goals of “success” for my children are likely quite different than what the world calls success, but perseverance and steadfastness in Christian pursuits are high on my list for them. Therefore, I’ll be pondering grit more in the days to come.
Karen Koch is mainly gritty in areas concerning homeschooling, reading, and books in general, but could use more grit in many areas of her life. She has four children age 8-20. Check your local library for this book.