Good read: Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy

Angela Duckworth already acknowledged several critiques on her ‘Grit’, but there is more. In this interesting read Nicholas Tampio, associate professor of political science at Fordham University in New York, argues that teaching ‘grit’ can be bad for children, and even bad for democracy. He does this by looking at the examples Duckworth mentions herself in her book.

I share here one example, but there are more in the original post:

Duckworth’s book is filled with gritty people doing things that they, perhaps, shouldn’t.

Take Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology and Duckworth’s graduate school mentor. In a 1967 article, Seligman and his co-author describe a series of experiments on dogs. The first day, the dogs are placed in a harness and administered electrical shocks. One group can stop the shocks if they press their nose against a panel, and the other group cannot. The next day, all of the dogs are placed in a shuttle box and again administered shocks that the dogs can stop by jumping over a barrier. Most of the dogs who could stop the shocks the first day jumped over the barrier, while most of the dogs who suffered inescapable shock did not try, though a few did. Duckworth reflects upon this story and her own challenges in a college course in neurobiology. She decides that she passed the course because she would ‘be like the few dogs who, despite recent memories of uncontrollable pain, held fast to hope’. Duckworth would be like one of the dogs that got up and kept fighting.

At no point, however, does Duckworth express concern that many of the animals in Seligman’s study died or became ill shortly thereafter. Nor does she note that the CIA may have employed the theory of ‘learned helplessness’ to perform enhanced interrogation, regardless of Seligman’sstated opposition to torture. Duckworth acknowledges the possibility that there might be ‘grit villains’ but dismisses this concern because ‘there are many more gritty heroes’. There is no reason to assume this, and it oversimplifies the moral universe to maintain that one has to be a ‘grit villain’ to thoughtlessly harm people.

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