In “The Limitations of Teaching ‘Grit’ in the Classroom,” which is about education, trauma, and growth mindset, Aisha Sultan writes, “When asking the question of why some children succeed in school and others don’t, [Tyron C. Howard] said the educators and administrators tend to overestimate the power of the person and underestimate the power of the situation.” Sultan further quotes Howard: “‘We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them.’”
This idea of eliding the power of a situation in favor of the power of personal characteristics directly echoes Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the Fundamental Attribution Error in his 2000 book Tipping Point. In Tipping Point, Gladwell examines what makes social movements start and spread, and one of those factors, according to Gladwell, is the power of context – the impact the environment has on how we think, act, react, interact, and respond.
That children come to school carrying baggage from their personal lives that interferes with their learning isn’t news. I’m glad, however, we continue to discuss it, because it bears repeating. I fear, nevertheless, we too often neglect the idea of a tipping point embedded in the contexts our students inhabit.
If Gladwell’s premise holds, then inherent in the home contexts of our students is the notion that one small change in that context could tip the student’s ability to find success at school, however success is defined.
In other words, let’s remember that even if we cannot change everything about a bad situation, we can change something, and that one thing may make a world of difference.
Sultan, A. (Dec. 2, 2015). Limitations of teaching ‘grit’ in the classroom. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/12/when-grit-isnt-enough/418269/