Friday, September 23, 2011

Grit and Middle-Class Messaging

One of the main points of Rick Hess's Achievement Gap Mania is that the recent school reform rhetoric focusing simply does not appeal to the middle class -- insofar as they would want to be impacted by reform themselves. It might be ok for poor kids. Also, a lot of people have never liked teachers' unions.

This, I think, helps explain the other major piece of the week, Paul Tough's What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? The harder you look at Tough's article, the less is actually there. The whole thing is held together with duct tape and hand-waving. Here's one of the key concluding paragraphs:

When I asked Randolph to explain just what he thought Riverdale students were missing out on, he told me the story of his own scholastic career. He did well in boarding school and was admitted to Harvard, but when he got to college, he felt lost, out of step with the power-tie careerism of the Reagan ’80s. After two years at Harvard, Randolph left for a year to work in a low-paying manual job, as a carpenter’s helper, trying to find himself. After college, he moved for a couple of years to Italy, where he worked odd jobs and studied opera. It was an uncertain and unsettled time in his life, filled with plenty of failed experiments and setbacks and struggles. Looking back on his life, though, Randolph says that the character strengths that enabled him to achieve the success that he has were not built in his years at Harvard or at the boarding schools he attended; they came out of those years of trial and error, of taking chances and living without a safety net. And it is precisely those kinds of experiences that he worries that his students aren’t having.

Look... that's not grit. It is the opposite. People who do well on the grit scale are the ones who stay in college. That's the point. They are focused, don't go mooning around looking for themselves. That's what the questionnaire is supposed to predict. People who don't wander off to Italy to study opera for a while.

Anyhow... so, what is going on here? I think Hess's essay points to the answer -- working on middle class messaging for "no excuses" schools. It isn't about the achievement gap, it is about character, just like a private school!

So... expect more along these lines. If you ask me it is still a tough sell to suburban America.

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