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.

Source: Making Room for Asset Pedagogies – Long View on Education

See also:

Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology

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?

Source: Grit: A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad (##) – Alfie Kohn

Resistant > Resilient

jon adams on Twitter: “I don’t want to be ‘resilient’ to the poor attitudes & hostile environment so often society sets out before #autistic people I want to be ‘resistant’ to the poor attitudes & hostile environment so often society sets out before #autistic people #AutisticCultureShift”

Jorn Bettin on Twitter: “Spot-on. “Help” to become resilient only perpetuates and amplifies toxic power gradients. #AutisticCultureShift must include #Resistance and #AutisticCollaboration. That’s the path to a safer environment. Don’t trust anyone who claims we can’t collaborate…”

Ryan Boren on Twitter: “Resistant \> Resilient I like that as pushback against grit, mindset marketing, inspoporn, bootstrap ideology, and deficit ideology.…”


Ed-tech relies on amnesia.

Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs. (The same goes for “tech” at large.)

Source: HEWN, No. 297

Despite scant evidence in support of the psychopedagogies of mindsets, mindfulness, wellness, and grit, the ed-tech industry (press) markets these as solutions to racial and gender inequality (among other things), as the psychotechnologies of personalization are now increasingly intertwined not just with surveillance and with behavioral data analytics, but with genomics as well. “Why Progressives Should Embrace the Genetics of Education,” a NYT op-ed piece argued in July, perhaps forgetting that education’s progressives (including Montessori) have been down this path before.

Does It Make More Sense to Invest in School Security or SEL?” Edsurge asked its readers this summer. Those are the choices – surveillance or surveillance.

What an utter failure of imagination.

Source: The Stories We Were Told about Education Technology (2018)

They blamed students who lacked “grit,” teachers who sought tenure, and parents who knew too much. They declared school funding isn’t the problem, an elected school board is an obstacle, and philanthropists know best.

They published self-fulfilling prophecies connecting zip-coded school ratings, teacher performance scores, and real estate values. They viewed Brown v. Board as skin-deep and sentimental, instead of an essential mandate for democracy.

They implied “critical thinking” was possible without the Humanities, that STEM alone makes us vocationally relevant, and that “coding” should replace recess time. They cut teacher pay, lowered employment qualifications, and peddled the myth anyone can teach.

They instructed critics to look past poverty, inequality, residential segregation, mass incarceration, homelessness, and college debt to focus on a few heartwarming (and yes, legitimate) stories of student resilience and pluck.

They designed education conferences on “data-driven instruction,” “rigorous assessment,” and “differentiated learning” but showed little patience for studies that correlate student performance with poverty, trauma, a school-to-prison pipeline, and the decimation of community schools.

Source: Why A New Generation of Teachers is Angry at Self-Styled Education ‘Reformers’ | GFBrandenburg’s Blog

Get structural and equity literate.

Ed Yong wrote about that viral video of the baby bear and mama bear making their way across a snow-covered cliff. You know the one – the one that some educators have said shows the bear had “grit.” Yong points out that the bears were being filmed by a drone, and the mother would never have made her baby take such a precarious path had it not been for the technological intrusion. Come to think of it, the whole thing – the ignorance and dismissal of trauma, the lack of attention to structural violence, the use of technology to shape behavior – is a perfect analogy for how “grit” gets wielded in schools.

Source: HEWN, No. 291

We are confronted by the complicated/complex division everyday in education. Do I want to know if a medical students has remembered the nine steps of a process of inquiry to work with a patient or do I want to know if they built a good raport? How often do we choose the thing that is easier to measure… simply because we can verify that our grading is ‘fair’. How often do we get caught in conversations around how ‘rigourous’ an assessment is when what we really mean is ‘how easy is it to defend to a parent who’s going to complain about a child’s grade’.

Learning, like love, can’t have a lean six sigma chart designed for it. Once we’ve identified something in our education space as complex (as opposed to complicated) a new set of tools has to emerge. We have to have deep conversations about what our goals are. We need to talk about what our values are and how they translate to our lives. And then we need to engage with our system in a broad based, patient way that allows us to make change. As Snowden would put it, Probe, Sense and Respond. Try some things, see how they work, iterate and try again. You’re never going to get to best practice, because the situation is always changing.

We need to understand that our protectionist strategies (limiting screen time, web blocking apps) just further put dangerous and mean activities our children on the internet further underground. We need training, we need dialogue, we need courage… but most of all we all need to get together and decide that our goal is to try and make the internet a better place… rather than trying to hide from it. No LSS approach is going to do that. Only human approaches… only messy results.

Source: Making Change in Education II – Complexity vs. Lean Six Sigma (learning isn’t like money) – Dave’s Educational Blog

we all need to get together and decide that our goal is to try and make the internet a better place… rather than trying to hide from it.

Indeed. Bring safety to the serendipity. I suggest indie ed-tech and Domain of One’s Own.

No LSS approach is going to do that. Only human approaches… only messy results.

Once we’ve identified something in our education space as complex (as opposed to complicated) a new set of tools has to emerge.

Human approaches, tools for complexity:

We are confronted by the complicated/complex division everyday in education.

Start “foregrounding complexity as the baseline”. Behaviorism and mindset marketing are not human approaches because they bikeshed human complexity. They are convenient detours, not direct confrontations.

There is no path toward educational justice that contains convenient detours around direct confrontations with injustice. The desperate search for these detours, often in the form of models or frameworks or concepts that were not developed as paths to justice, is the greatest evidence of the collective desire among those who count on injustice to give them an advantage to retain that advantage. If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.

Source: Paul C. Gorski – Grit. Growth mindset. Emotional intelligence….

How often do we choose the thing that is easier to measure… simply because we can verify that our grading is ‘fair’. How often do we get caught in conversations around how ‘rigourous’ an assessment is when what we really mean is ‘how easy is it to defend to a parent who’s going to complain about a child’s grade’.

Picking the easy to measure things and building pedagogy and culture around data and behaviorism disguises the ways they kill us.

The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health

Source: ClassDojo app takes mindfulness to scale in public education | code acts in education

Here’s a rule of thumb for you: An individual’s enthusiasm about the employment of “data” in education is directly proportional to his or her distance from actual students. Policy makers and economists commonly refer to children in the aggregate, apparently viewing them mostly as a source of numbers to be crunched. They do this even more than consultants and superintendents, who do it more than principals, who do it more than teachers. The best teachers, in fact, tend to recoil from earnest talk about the benefits of “data-driven instruction,” the use of “data coaches,” “data walls,” and the like.

Making matters worse, the data in question typically are just standardized test scores – even though, as I’ve explained elsewhere, that’s not the only reason to be disturbed by this datamongering. And it doesn’t help when the process of quantifying kids (and learning) is festooned with adjectives such as “personalized” or “customized.”

But here’s today’s question: If collecting and sorting through data about students makes us uneasy, how should we feel about the growing role of Big Data?

Part of the problem is that we end up ignoring or minimizing the significance of whatever doesn’t lend itself to data analytics. It’s rather like the old joke about the guy searching for his lost keys at night near a street light even though that’s not where he’d dropped them. (“But the light is so much better here!”) No wonder education research – increasingly undertaken by economists – increasingly relies on huge data sets consisting of standardized test results. Those scores may be lousy representations of learning – and, indeed, egregiously misleading. But, by gum, they sure are readily available.

“What’s left out?”, then, is one critical question to ask. Another is: “Who benefits from it?” Noam Scheiber, a reporter who covers workplace issues, recently observed that big data is “massively increasing the power asymmetry between exploiters and exploitees.” (For more on this, check out Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction).

Anyone who has observed the enthusiasm for training students to show more “grit” or develop a “growth mindset” should know what it means to focus on fixing the kid so he or she can better adapt to the system rather than asking inconvenient questions about the system itself. Big data basically gives us more information, based on grades, about which kids need fixing (and how and when), making it even less likely that anyone would think to challenge the destructive effects of – and explore alternatives to – the practice of grading students.

Predictive analytics allows administrators to believe they’re keeping a watchful eye on their charges when in fact they’re learning nothing about each student’s experience of college, his or her needs, fears, hopes, beliefs, and state of mind. Creating a “personalized” data set underscores just how _im_personal the interaction with students is, and it may even compound that problem. At the same time that this approach reduces human beings to a pile of academic performance data, it also discourages critical thought about how the system, including teaching and evaluation, affects those human beings.

Source: When “Big Data” Goes to School – Alfie Kohn

Our public school policymakers want us to do the later. In fact, they have a whole pedagogical justification for ignoring the needs of children.

It’s called “academic tenacity,” a “growth mindset” or “grit.”

And it goes something like this:

That child isn’t learning? If she just worked harder, she would. 

It’s the political equivalent of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” applied to the classroom.

And it’s super helpful for politicians reluctant to allocate tax dollars to actually help kids succeed.

But what no one wants to admit is that grit is… well… shit.

It’s just an excuse for a society that refuses to help those most in need.

Yet when anyone suggests offering help to even the playing field – to make things more fair – a plethora of policy wonks wag their fingers and say, “No way! They did it to themselves.”

It’s typical “blame the victim” pathology to say that some kids get all the love, time and resources they need while others can do without – they just need more “grit” and a “growth mindset.”

Source: Grit is Sh!t – It’s Just an Excuse to do Nothing for Struggling Students – gadflyonthewallblog

As with the corporate flavor, ed-tech mindfulness, like other mindset marketing, disguises the ways they kill us.

Source: Mindfulness in Education – rnbn

And so we can firmly put the insistence on data-driven instruction in the trash bin of bad ideas.

It is unscientific, unproven, harmful, reductive, dehumanizing and contradictory.

The next time you hear an administrator or principal pull out this chestnut, take out one of these counterarguments and roast it on an open fire.

No more data-driven instruction.

Focus instead on student-driven learning.

Source: The Six Biggest Problems with Data-Driven Instruction | gadflyonthewallblog

But it is still worth thinking about the blackboard as a disciplinary technology – one that molds and constrains what happens in the classroom, one that (ostensibly) makes visible the mind and the character of the person at the board, whether that’s a student or a teacher.

Indeed, the history of the teaching profession suggests we have long been obsessed with the morals of the latter. But obviously “character education,” as popular as it is with today’s education reformers and education psychologists, also has a long history – a history bound up in the technologies of the classroom. Grit, mindsets, behavior management – this push for disciplinary practices and disciplinary technologies is not new. Framing this in terms of engineering – behavioral engineering, social engineering, educational engineering, learning engineering – is also centuries old.

Source: Why History Matters

I updated “Mindset Marketing, Behaviorism, and Deficit Ideology” with selections from “Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?”.

Thomas points to the deficit thinking that is inescapable with grit and growth mindset-The idea that students who do not demonstrate white, well-resourced definitions of perseverance with curriculum that may or may not be meaningful to them, in a larger system that is often operated with intentional and unintentional bias against their success, and to act upon those perseverance ideals daily are somehow less disciplined than others, diminished in a way, and that teachers must “fix” what’s wrong in them, (i.e., personal character and maturity) and not fix their environments and the controlling narratives of those in power that perpetuate this constant diminished state.

Author and educator Richard Cash agrees, referring to deficit thinking as the, “spoken and unspoken assumptions about a student’s lack of self-regulation, ability, or aptitude. The most devastating impact of deficit thinking is when differences-particularly socio-cultural differences-are perceived as inferior, dysfunctional, or deviant … Typically, schools are designed to ‘fix’ students who are achieving poorly or misbehaving. However, by blaming students, we exonerate ourselves as the possible cause-using the symptom to overlook the source” (June 2018).

Thomas ties it to his critique of grit/growth mindset: “Both growth mindset and grit … mistake growth mindset/grit as the dominant or even exclusive quality causing success in student learning (ignoring the power of systemic influences) and then create an environment in which some students (too often black, brown, and poor) are defined in deficit terms-that they lack growth mindset/grit.” He adds, “[S]tudents are better served by equity practices couched in efforts to alleviate the systemic forces that shape how they live and learn regardless of their character.”

In a separate post, he argues that it is particularly harmful, yet typically American, thinking to assume that students’ success and failure is driven solely by individual character and behavior, when actually, so much of any one individual’s success or failure is driven by social forces, environment of birth, and systemic biases. He recommends Sendhil Mullainathan’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much to clarify this point, as do I-It’s a thoughtful read.

Thomas and others claim that growth mindset/grit programs, “disproportionately target racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students … linked to race and social class … [which] perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy” (Thomas, 2018).

Thomas promotes author and educator Paul Gorski’s assertion that, “Equity literate educators … reject deficit views that focus on fixing marginalized students rather than fixing the conditions that marginalize students, and understand the structural barriers that cheat some people out of the opportunities enjoyed by other people.”

At the Equity Literacy Institute, Gorski is clear: “We must avoid being lulled by popular ‘diversity’ approaches and frameworks that pose no threat to inequity-that sometimes are popular because they are no real threat to inequity.”

Source: Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?

I updated “Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life ” with selections from “Basic Principles for Equity Literacy”.

The Direct Confrontation Principle: There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity. There is no path to racial equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with interpersonal, institutional, and structural racism. “Equity” approaches that fail to directly confront inequity play a significant role in sustaining inequity.

The “Poverty of Culture” Principle: Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems, not primarily cultural problems. Equity requires power and privilege solutions, not just cultural solutions. Frameworks that attend to diversity purely in vague cultural terms, like the “culture of poverty,” are no threat to inequity.

The Prioritization Principle: Each policy and practice decision should be examined through the question, “How will this impact the most marginalized members of our community?” Equity is about prioritizing their interests.

The “Fix Injustice, Not Kids” Principle: Educational outcome disparities are not the result of deficiencies in marginalized communities’ cultures, mindsets, or grittiness, but rather of inequities. Equity initiatives focus, not on fixing marginalized people, but on fixing the conditions that marginalize people.

Source: Basic Principles for Equity Literacy