Author Archives: Day Greenberg

A Day Without A Woman

We are living in a time of great hate, denial, erasure, and violence. Now more than ever, we must fight.

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s also a day of striking across several countries in solidarity with the U.S. women who are seeking change for “equity, justice and the human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people.” Thus, today has been named A Day Without A Woman.

Each strike calls us to look at who we are, what we do, and what we can and should be doing to act for change. Tithi Bhattacharya and Cinzia Arruzza have presented the intentions behind this strike as intersectional and urgent. Creighton Leigh disagrees, but offers a handy list of 10 urgent actions to complete for Brown and Black women today.

Today, as a White woman and graduate student, I hold the privilege of deciding for myself what my day will entail. This morning as a student, the labor I perform is for me and my benefit. This afternoon as a teacher at a community organization funded externally by a grant, the labor I perform is not static employment but engagement for critical, sociopolitical and historical change. Today, like many days, my privileges provide choice.

I choose to continue learning and engaging towards making change in partnership with strong women and youth from communities that are often silenced and stripped of power in/by STEM because of skin color, wallets, and zip codes. I choose to work in partnership to dismantle structures of power that benefit me now as a White woman but hurt us all in the end, by dividing and conquering us as a nation paralyzed. I choose to fight for my students’ voices and talents and dreams to be heard, honored, and realized. As a great mentor of mine recently stated, “Education is the best ammunition we have.”

For me, today is yet another reminder that I need to continue to learn and grow and put my efforts where they matter—I need to participate more in political work. I need to more fully embrace this fight that we did not ask for. The fight that others without my White privilege have been fighting their entire lives. I need to act, knowing in strength and hope that “our army of love greatly outnumbers that of fear, greed and hatred.”

Where will you place YOUR efforts today? Where will you stand for justice tomorrow? Where will you fight?

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Like a Piece of Gum.

by Day Greenberg

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Last time, I wrote a blog post about what I think about grit research. That post referenced a running metaphor that Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth made in her TED talk about grit. “Running ahead” with that metaphor, I challenged it with my own analogy about access to high-quality running shoes, in that there are some crucial resources that act as gatekeepers on people’s paths toward their goals. These gatekeepers (e.g., a high-quality educational opportunity) make rushing forward—AT ANY SPEED—toward a goal either easier, or much, much harder.

This time around, I want to introduce you to one particularly gritty young person I know, and to the metaphors he has used in discussions of his access to educational gatekeepers. This person—a youth engineer who is currently in the middle of prototyping an actual pair of running shoes—has some very relevant points to share about forward momentum and what it requires.

M*, an active member of our afterschool STEM club, visited our club at the end of last year (his 5th grade year) and asked to join. We turned him down, reminding him that the school year was almost over, and that our program membership usually begins in 6th grade. This fall, he showed up at our welcome back party and joined that same day. Since then, he has been actively involved in engineering for sustainable communities, developing novel footwear design solutions to community member’s needs related to injuries, cold and wet weather, and economic constraints.

We asked M what he thought about doing science and engineering afterschool in our program. Here’s what he said:

Author (A): Why are you doing it?

M: Cuz last year, I couldn’t make it out here. And I seen something, and I started thinking maybe that could be me next year. So, I stuck around. On the bottom of your shoe. Like a piece of gum. And I waited… [looks at author smiling] That’s a big cheese.

A: Cuz I love that metaphor! …Now what does that mean to you?

M: That I’m patient.

A: … So how do you feel now that you’re done with being patient and done with the wait?

M: Now I can build stuff!

A: How’s that feel?

M: Good. It gets my hopes up to build, like, all these type of things that people need, or all these things that we need. So, we build. And we create. And we present. And we search for facts, and people’s opinions. And we do.

A: And what do you mean by “do”?

M: We work off of them [facts researched, and people’s opinions], and sometimes we actually take their things and put them into our things, and create a whole big thing! [moves arms out wide] Like a whole big thing of ideas for our invention. Like, something be cool, so, it builds up… it just started spreading when people started talking about it. …it just made it into this big ole resource that people need. So, I worked off of it. Or, if somebody says they did it [that the product he wanted to create already exists], then that might stink, so I bounce back. Or sometimes I just rush forward.

A: When do you rush forward?

M: When I see stuff that is really, things that I really need.

In M’s comments, I definitely see grit. It’s quite hard to miss. We told him “no,” and he came back. After an entire summer, he still remembered. And the way he describes it, there was no way we could have gotten rid of him, even if we tried. He was sticking around and waiting for his turn. No matter what.

But you see, the thing is, this young man who described himself as “a piece of gum” was not acting as “a piece of gum floating in space.” He had something (and someone) to stick to. In his mind, he was anchoring himself to me, and to the club. By proxy (whether he was/is fully aware of it or not), he was also anchoring himself to our cache of precious resources—educational information, social relationships, institutional affiliations, professional network connections, experiential opportunities, not too mention the financial and material support we have the ability to share.

Where we went, he wanted to go too. As he would likely tell it, we couldn’t get rid of him, and we had to accept his presence eventually. Not only that, we had to finally give him access to the resources, environments, and opportunities he so craved.

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So, I have my own interpretations and perspectives about this story and what it can tell us as science education researchers and practitioners, but to be honest, I’m still in the process of figuring that out. One of the benefits of longitudinal, qualitative research is that the investigation of data can be viewed as a journey, one that runs in parallel to the journeys your participants/students complete during your research/practice (and I’m not done with exploring M’s journey just yet).

For now, why don’t you tell me: what lessons can potentially begin to be uncovered here with M, in your opinion? What connection do you see between his grit, our shared resources together, and his supported, forward momentum past multiple different gatekeeper stations (some of which he has already passed, and some of which he has yet to encounter)? Where is the balance of power, responsibility, and perseverance located, in M’s world?

Where is it located in yours?

 

*Name kept private.

 

Who Does Our Grit Discourse Gravely Insult, and Why?

by Day Greenberg

A particular construct has been sweeping the educational research field. It promises a silver bullet of sorts to address educational challenges on an individual level, through individual perseverance. It makes this promise absent of any attendance to or recognition of specifically relevant contextual factors. This construct is grit.

The concept of grit, and its frenzied take-up by researchers and practitioners, needs to be problematized—and fast. Unfortunately for students, it has so far been given an almost “free pass” to permeate the conversation on and in our school systems with an insidious bootstrap mentality that rightly praises hard work and resilience yet simultaneous distorts that praise through an insulting, willful blindness that actively harms our nation’s children. The blindness of “grit speech” is the willful ignorance toward the powerful, and power-mediated, external factors that more often than not act as gate checks for students’ efforts toward success. No matter how “gritty” a student is, these factors retain the dangerous power to either expand or cripple such hard work. Such factors—socioeconomic status, parental free time at home, the color of students’ skin and the first language they learn at home, tax-dependent school resource levels that differ by district and often along lines of color, school violence levels that likewise disproportionately plague lower-income schools, teacher quality levels that (surprise, surprise) also are not equitably dispersed across schools and districts, etc.—matter. They matter a great deal: for the support students receive, for the support parents receive, for the assistance toward success that some “gritty” students can find and leverage more easily than others, etc.

In April 2013, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth delivered a “TED Talk” on her groundbreaking research titled “The key to success? Grit”. In it, she argued that grit, “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals… having stamina… sticking with your future… and working really hard to make that future a reality,” should be taken even more seriously than what she described as the traditional standard of intelligence and “the one thing we know how to measure best,” the IQ score (Duckworth, 2013). Must we digress to address the many tested and confirmed reasons Dr. Duckworth’s praising of IQ tests is problematic? For the purposes of brevity, I’ll merely state that her assumptions about IQ and our ability to test for it are outdated, as scientists agree that those assumptions are “just wrong” (Connor, 2012; Hampshire, Highfield, Parkin, & Owen, 2012) because “the test is a measure of social class background, and not one of the ability for complex cognition as such” (Richardson, 2002).

For the same reason that praising IQ outside of sociocultural, economic, political, and any other context is misguided, placing grit in such a contextual vacuum is unwise. It’s unwise for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, and it’s harmful for students.

Halfway through her talk, Dr. Duckworth asserts that “grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” What she doesn’t mention is the massive—and for many individuals, prohibitive—cost to purchase the premium brands of running shoes that offer higher levels of protection and support for the runners who have access to them. This metaphor reminds me of my middle school years, when my parents could not afford to buy me new shoes and my older sister’s hand-me-down sneakers with worn-out soles caused me to develop plantar fasciitis when I ran in them. This is not to say I was not a gritty child. But at that time and in that circumstance, when my parents were using food stamps and food banks to fill our bellies, it would not have been wise (or realistic, or kind) to expect her to find a way to buy me more supportive running shoes. My school was not giving away free running shoes, either. In that context, how should I have been expected to be able to run sprints, let alone a marathon?

Dr. Duckworth also does not mention the fact that many menacing obstacles obstruct some running paths differently than others, based on the neighborhood in which you run and even what you look like as a runner. One of the causes of my parents’ financial stresses, besides my mother’s constant medical issues and unethical health insurance practices that dropped my family into bankruptcy twice during my childhood, was the school tuition that my parents paid so that my two siblings and I could attend a college preparatory program at a Catholic school, in one of the lowest-performing and most violent public school districts in my home state of Florida. This, for me, WAS the pair of fancy running shoes I so desperately needed to complete my marathon of high quality, challenging learning in a supportive and protective environment. I cannot honestly say that I became who I am, a PhD student in one of the best programs in the country, because of my grit, my willingness to persevere in spite of my obstacles, outside of the context of how fortunate and privileged I was to escape the oppressively violent and low-resourced conditions that the other kids in my neighborhood were subjected to in their schools. I also can’t take my grit out of the context of my white skin color and the privileged social class in which my parents positioned me in our school/church community, in spite of their mismatching economic class.

Sure, I worked incredibly hard to continually earn annual scholarships that ultimately cut my tuition down to about $2,000 a year (which sometimes required even such humbling tasks as writing personal thank you notes to my friends’ parents when they donated), but who paid that balance? My parents, who were privileged enough to have jobs, and who (perhaps because of how my White, American, native English-speaking parents sounded when they talked and what they looked like when they dressed up for meetings) were forgiven by my school when they were (often several weeks) late to submit tuition payments. Besides even that, I had parents. Two of them. Alive. In the same household. Sacrificing for me. THIS was privilege. It was resources. It was social and economic capital. It was context. It was not just grit.

Grit won’t remove children from the contexts in which more powerful others place them. It cannot save our children from the structures that actively threaten their right to live, learn, and play. Grit did not keep Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, or Aiyana Jones safe from the very structures of power that still claim to protect life while continuously destroying it. In the context of the real, tangible threats cities and city leaders throw in front of our students’ paths on a daily basis, why do we believe the answer lies in isolated psychosocial interventions to make these children more resilient? Does grit stop police bullets? Does grit cure structural racism and inequity? Does grit produce healthier and more respectful teacher-student, school-community, corporation-worker, and politician-people relationship dynamics? When Gloria Ladson-Billings introduced the concept of our nation’s education debt resulting from such abuses as funding inequities and continued school segregation, she did not suggest that the way to pay back such a debt was to train our youth to shoulder it for us with a stiff upper lip (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Why do we power holders claim that the ultimate solution to the abuses we cause depends on the stamina and capacity of our victims to take the punches we give them?

Yes, grit is an interesting concept and studying this quality in students is a worthwhile effort (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). But, as with any other concept or construct in educational research, it should not be taken out of context and treated as a silver bullet. Truly, before we label something as a silver bullet, shouldn’t we begin by asking: to where and at what are we aiming, and what other weapons in our arsenal are we accidentally ignoring that might make more of a difference?

 

References:

Connor, S. (2012). IQ tests are “fundamentally flawed” and using them alone to measure. Retrieved January 1, 2016, from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/iq-tests-are-fundamentally-flawed-and-using-them-alone-to-measure-intelligence-is-a-fallacy-study-8425911.html

Duckworth, A. L. (2013). The key to success? Grit. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit?language=en

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Hampshire, A., Highfield, R. R., Parkin, B. L., & Owen, A. M. (2012). Fractionating Human Intelligence. Neuron, 76(6), 1225–1237. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.06.022

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3–12. http://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X035007003

Richardson, K. (2002). What IQ Tests Test. Theory & Psychology, 12(3), 283–314. http://doi.org/10.1177/0959354302012003012

Schwartz, K. (n.d.). Does The Grit Narrative Blame Students For School’s Shortcomings? Retrieved January 1, 2016, from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/05/05/does-the-grit-narrative-blame-students-for-schools-shortcomings/