When I posted a recent study on growth mindset—Study finds popular ‘growth mindset’ educational interventions aren’t very effective—on my blog Debunked!, growth mindset advocates quickly bristled at the blog title, notably this Tweet:
Paul, Posting this under the “Debunked” title when it really isn’t fully debunked according to the abstract is a bit misleading. There ARE some positives in Growth Mindset worth incorp w/other elements that help teachers’ perspectives of hope, not blame, which is preferable.
— Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli2) May 26, 2018
Several patterns in the subsequent Twitter discussion are worth addressing in a format more detailed than Tweets.
First, I have been a consistent critic of both growth mindset and grit best captured in the following posts:
- Failing Still to Address Poverty Directly: Growth Mindset as Deficit Ideology
- Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels
- Rejecting “Grit” While Embracing Effort, Engagement
I immediately shared these posts as part of the discussion—often guided by Wormeli’s thoughtful and welcomed concerns about my stances.
Next, however, many advocates (mostly for growth mindset) offered typical rebuttals, including (1) arguments that both growth mindset and grit in practice are often counter to the intent of Carol Dweck (growth mindset) and Angela Duckworth (grit), noting that both have raised concerns about those misuses and misconceptions, (2) chastising me for “conflating” growth mindset and grit, and (3) requesting practical alternatives to growth mindset and grit practices.
To the first point, I want to be clear that I am strongly aware of the gender problems inherent in me, a white male academic, challenging Dweck and Duckworth, including critiques that can be and have been viewed as attacking them personally.
I do think it is fair to address the character of those scholars advocating character education for children (see this on Duckworth, for example), but I also have taken care to monitor gender biases inherent in how we police women scholars versus men scholars.
But, while I am aware that both Dweck and Duckworth have raised concerns about the misuses of growth mindset and grit, I contend that both scholars have reaped a great deal of financial and professional capital from that misuse, primarily, and haven’t refused those profits. I find their cautions hollow, then.
I reject the second point—that I conflate growth mindset and grit—and recognize that growth mindset advocates often seek ways to distance themselves from the grit movement and that research has begun to challenge both growth mindset and grit research by Dweck and Duckworth, although far more challenging claims have been made against Duckworth’s research.
In short, I absolutely recognize that growth mindset and grit are not the same, and may not even be on the same level of validity and credibility as research.
However, while I do not conflate the two, I do highlight in my critiques that both are grounded in deficit ideologies: Both growth mindset and grit, I contend, mistake growth mindset/grit as the dominant or even exclusive quality causing success in student learning (ignoring the power of systemic influences) and then create an environment in which some students (too often black, brown, and poor) are defined in deficit terms—that they lack growth mindset/grit.
Yes, growth mindset and grit are unique approaches, but they share the failure of being complicit in deficit practices. And while the science of growth mindset may be more solid than the science of grit, both are prone to the problem of scientific racism—the failure to unpack “high-quality research” for biases.
Now, to the final point, I would recommend Paul Gorski’s work on equity practices, specifically this second edition which directly confronts both growth mindset and grit: Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap. Here, also, are some starting points with Gorski’s work:
- Poverty and the ideological imperative: a call to unhook from deficit and grit ideology and to strive for structural ideology in teacher education
- Equity Literacy for All, Paul C. Gorski and Katy Swalwell
- Equity Literacy for Educators: Definition and Abilities
Ultimately, then, I do reject growth mindset and grit, both as programs that are misused and thus harmful to the students who need formal education the most. I also see little room to justify the research behind either, or to excuse Dweck or Duckworth even when they raise cautions about the misuses.
My concerns are driven by an equity lens that recognizes and confronts the problems masked by narrow views of research and science as well as the myopia inherent in accountability that demands in-school-only approaches to teaching, testing, and reform that tend to be driven by bootstrap ideologies.
Teaching and learning as well as success and failure are incredibly complex. Often in education, our rush to find the key to success and failure in order to improve teaching and learning is ruined by a missionary zeal corrupted by biases—both of which must be confronted and resisted.
Growth mindset and grit fail as overzealous programs, and students are better served by equity practices couched in efforts to alleviate the systemic forces that shape how they live and learn regardless of their character.
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