“A new study shows,” Education, and the Media

As I continue to document, the mainstream media believe everyone is an expert on education (except educators, of course).

In today’s two-experts-collide, know-nothing David Brooks comes out against GPA while latching onto Angela Duckworth’s “grit” sequel that is poised to maintain her racism/classism train to fame and fortune.

As John Oliver has now confronted (see below), the mainstream media love “a new study shows,” but almost always gets everything wrong.

Educational research continues to suffer this fate in the mainstream media, where, for example, the elites maintain our focus on students struggling just need more “grit,” and the self-serving counter to that: high achieving, successful people are so because of, primarily, their “grit”! (Ahem, and not their enormous privilege.)

Don’t hold your breath, but let’s imagine a world in which Brooks and Duckworth hold forth on this truth:

If you are black/brown and/or poor, your “grit” will still get you less than those gifted white privilege at birth.

Or how about:

Instead of the fatalism of saying that life is going to be hard for black/brown and/or poor people, and thus we need to make them extra “gritty” through abusive “no excuses” schools, why don’t we eradicate the social forces making their lives suck? [1]

Nope. We’ll just keep getting the sort of breezy hokum John Oliver brilliantly unmasks here:

[1] Also, imagine a world in which we discover lead in paint is dangerous for children so we conduct a study on children who survive exposure to lead pain in order to equip all students with that quality—instead of eradicating lead in paint. That’s the “grit” research in a nutshell.


10 thoughts on ““A new study shows,” Education, and the Media”

  1. Middle class white kids don’t have more “grit”, they have parents making them do their homework, helping them do their homework, doing their homework for them.

  2. This statement “If you are black/brown and/or poor, your “grit” will still get you less than those gifted white privilege at birth.” is certainly true but what do you tell a working teacher who knows that persistence produces better outcomes for all?

    1. First don’t assume low achievement is from lack of effort or that high achievement is mostly effort. Then advocate for effort and engagement as their own rewards, not as a magic elixir that cures inequity.

  3. I want to look closely at one example of someone born wealthy who has never been poor to prove that he has no grit. That person is Donald Trump. I think that the Donald Trump example could be applied to most billionaires that are born into wealth: the Koch brothers, the Waltons, Bill Gates, for instance.

    The definition of Grit in this context is courage and resolve; strength of character.

    Back to Donald Trump. While Trump was in college during the Vietnam War using deferments to avoid the draft, John McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam after having been shot down. As a prisoner of war I think McCain proved he had grit through his honorable behavior.

    Trump on the other hand, had multiple student deferments and he finally got a medical exemption to avoid the draft. Trump has no grit. Trump has no courage. Trump is a liar, a coward, an alleged fraud and an alleged crook.

    Trump evades specifics on his draft deferment – http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/donald-trump-evades-specifics-on-his-draft-deferment-120330

    While it is possible for an individual born into wealth and privilege to develop courage, mental toughness and strength of character, I don’t think it is possible for someone like Trump who is well known to be a micro manager to ever develop grit. Oligarchs that want to control ever aspect of live for not only them but everyone else does not have grit. Instead, they are all clearly psychopaths and wouldn’t’ know what grit was even in a sand storm.

    Did you know that Bill Gates was so obsessed with controlling others that he even memorized his employee’ license plate numbers so that he could keep track of when they were arriving at work and leaving.


    1. Although Malcolm Gladwell is often full of hokum, his Outliers makes a solid case about “luck”/privilege trumping effort or deserved rewards by examining Gates.

  4. Much of education research is just chasing a fad without any real research behind it. A prime example is the idea of grit. It is a good concept. There is an effect there, but it cannot be the end all and be all of education. But, as used by the media and educators grit, differentiation, data-driven learning, the flipped classroom, and the list goes on. They all have contributions to make, but I think we miss the fundamental basis of education, memory. Anywho, that is my own schtick.

    The problem with media reporting on research is that the media treats one study like the end all and be all of on the topic until the next study comes out and contradicts it. As a group, we don’t understand science.

    As an educator, I am fortunate to have been assigned a psychology class to teach. Since then, I have expanded upon my knowledge in the field and have begun to enact some of the basic core principles of psychology in the classrooom, much like “Make It Stick,” does. My teaching has been transformed not because of one weird trick, but because I have started using my strengths and the strengths of human beings to accomplish the curriculum goals I’ve been given. I have started to blog about my experiences at Tangential Thoughts: The Psychology of Learning. If you’re interested, that is.


    I also blog about using psychology to explain current events and our social political situation at the Psy of Life: CalicoJack Explains Life & Everything Using Psychology & Snark (it is a bit snarky, profane, and left-leaning, but I think the findings, theories, and principles are well applied). Again, if you’re interested.


  5. I am an adult educator. I see similar things happened when digital media was marketing and treating online training software as panacea in online learning and adult education. Instead of a usage of “a new study shows”, “according to adult education theory” was repeatedly used in scientific(!) journals and online magazines widely; according to adult education… adults are self motivated; self-directed, and self-everything…

    Same is in Transformative learning theory as well. Everything related to Carl Jung and his mystique and unscientific theory were wittingly or unwittingly treated as “scientific” and accepted without questioning. Do you see the irony here? Transformative learning and using an unscientific theory and its assumptions without questioning their validity, reliability, and integration to adult education…

    So do not believe anything you read in the internet… Do not believe anything that is popularly claimed “scientific”. Science is not a religion. Science is a serious matter. Know what science is. Know what pseudoscience is. Know how power plays role in language and in knowledge creation.

    Be creative and do whatever you are told to be creative (this is a command). Hahahaha! Just kidding.

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