If anyone is truly interested in confronting the “soft bigotry” (not of “low expectations”) that is veiled racism/classism, please consider that an increasing number of black, brown, and poor students are being marched through the school day to “Work hard. Be nice.”

It is dehumanizing and a shallow lie to treat “other people’s children” as deficient of the so-called “grit” that the adults themselves never need and often fail to demonstrate while living in a state of privilege.

However, it seems that being pithy is the way to go if one wishes to be a real education reformer.

So consider these handy slogans (I reserve the right to update as needed):

  • The “grit” approach to education is treating the patient based on a false diagnosis while refusing to address the real cause of the disease.
  • “Grit” advocates who tell poor kids “you can do anything if you work hard enough” themselves say there is nothing they can do about poverty.
  • Telling children without boots to pull themselves up by their bootstraps is heinous.
  • Claiming “a rising tide lifts all boats” is cruel if we ignore those with leaking boats and those without boats.

The race and class bigotry of “no excuses” and “grit” approaches to educational practices and policies can be understood as yet more evidence of a long history of “blaming the victim” (Ryan, 1971, Blaming the victim. New York: Vintage Books).

As Paul C. Gorksi explains:

In other words, to use an education example, we deny people in poverty access to equal educational opportunity, access to healthcare, and even access to air unspoiled by environmental hazards. We do this for generations and then, when some low-income youth don’t do well on standardized tests or drop out of school or seem disengaged in class, we forget about these iequities and blame it on their “culture.” (p. 54)