There’s a wealth of critical literature on elevating ‘resilience’ among students as a character trait because of its tendency to rationalize systemic disparities and act as a “distancing move” to avoid confronting systemic issues. Paul Thomas is an essential source on this topic.
Social psychologists sometimes use the term “fundamental attribution error” to describe a tendency to pay so much attention to character, personality, and individual responsibility that we overlook how profoundly the social environment affects what we do and who we are. This error has political implications: The more we focus on people’s persistence (or self-discipline more generally), the less likely we’ll be to question larger policies and institutions. Consider Paul Tough’s declaration that “there is no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths…[such as] conscientiousness, grit, resilience, perseverance, and optimism.” Whose interests are served by the astonishing position that “no antipoverty tool” – presumably including Medicaid and public housing – is more valuable than an effort to train poor kids to persist at whatever they’ve been told to do?
The most impressive educational activists are those who struggle to replace a system geared to memorizing facts and taking tests with one dedicated to exploring ideas. They’re committed to a collaborative approach to schooling that learners will find more engaging. By contrast, those enamored of grit look at the same status quo and ask: How can we get kids to put up with it?