True Grit

I recently watched a TedTalk about grit in which Angela Lee Duckworth urges the audience to develop grit in children because grit is “a significant predictor of success.” As usual, a video about education made me think about Alpine Valley School and how our system relates to the problems or solutions presented.

At Alpine Valley School, staff only teach when asked, and as far as I know no one has asked for a class on grit. This is probably good because, as Duckworth tells us, there isn’t much known about teaching grit. The best idea she presents is something called a “growth mindset,” which is “the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed.” She suggests teaching students that the brain is flexible and that “failure is [not] a permanent condition.”

However, there’s an inherent problem in this strategy: if teaching about flexible brain function in school is the solution, what happens when a student fails that lesson? Wouldn’t the lessons about failure be lost when a student fails that same assignment?

Instead, at Alpine Valley School students have the freedom to live their lives at school as they wish. Instead of teaching kids about failure not being a permanent condition, they live this reality. When they want a friend to visit school, or to obtain funds to buy dissection tools, or to throw a party or plan a field trip, they must persevere through our democratic process, convincing others of the merit of their idea. Since each students and staff has one vote, anyone unable to persuade a majority of those voting must either let their idea go, or try again.

study under table

Grit comes is developed even during play: students’ tenacity shows when they persevere in a race, in a game of tag, or in committing to a day-long game of RISK.

Playing Risk

This process naturally develops grit – not a theoretical idea, but a concrete, practical application that will follow our students for the rest of their lives. They know that they are their own advocates and that if they want something done, they have to take the lead and see it through.

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