About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Donald Trump, Celebrity Culture, and the White Working Class

            Some friends and readers have been wondering why I haven’t written anything about the presidential election. The truth is I was numb with disbelief and anger and felt as hopeless about politics as I can remember feeling. What else was there to say other than the obvious: so much pain is going to be inflicted on so many. I also couldn’t get out of my head the fact that if a relatively small number of people in a handful of districts in a few states had voted or voted differently, this catastrophe of suffering would have been averted.
            One of the things that has baffled me from the start of Donald Trump’s rise in the GOP primary is how he could become the darling of so many White working class voters. I know some segments of this population, particularly the people who worked in heavy industry in the Northeast, many of them, like me, are the children or the grandchildren of the Southern and Eastern European immigrants who came to the United States in huge numbers between 1880 and 1920: Italian, Polish, Slovakian. Many of my contemporaries’ children also worked in those industries as they were in decline, or didn’t get to work in them at all, for by the early 1980s (a decade before NAFTA), the processes of deindustrialization had begun. If someone like Donald Trump, pampered and entitled, a braggart, demanding and overbearing… if such a guy happened into their midst—perhaps his limousine broke down en route from Northeast Ohio to Western Pennsylvania—if such a thing happened, many of them would certainly not embrace him, and could well dislike him, for he represents everything contrary to the codes of behavior they grew up with, the kind of man they respect, the way you talk about yourself in public.
            I know rural America much less well, though benefited tremendously when I stayed with local teachers in small towns during my travels for Possible Lives. I feel comfortable saying that the majority of the people I met in places like Southwestern Montana or the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky would have the same reaction to a Trump-like fellow descending into their midst. They would regard him with suspicion.
            So what gives? Well, as numerous political commentators have noted, especially after the election, Donald Trump was saying what a lot of people wanted to hear. The messenger didn't matter.
            Trump said many things, most of them shockingly blatant—no subtle dog whistling, except, perhaps, with anti-Semitism—assailing Mexicans, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, women, you know the list. His pocketbook appeal to working-class voters was his anti-trade message—which got intimately wrapped up in anti-immigrant, nativist language—and his bold proclamations that he was going to bring jobs back to economically devastated regions. And though it gets much less mention than the White working class issue, we should not overlook the fact that many in the traditional Republican base who are not blue-collar folk at all—the banker next door to me, the flower shop owner in Omaha, the dentist in Atlanta—voted in large numbers for Trump even though they might have done so reluctantly. He would reverse the Obama policies they don’t like, cut taxes and regulations, put conservatives on the Supreme Court. A lot of White Republican women voted for Mr. Trump, defying predictions that his loutish behavior would drive them into the Clinton camp, or at least lead them to not vote on the top of the ticket. And, Good Lord, Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly supported our Sinner-in-Chief, justifying their vote with talk of forgiveness and redemption. Certainly on their minds were social issues and the Supreme Court. While some high-profile Republicans—foreign policy experts or big players like Meg Whitman—supported Clinton, most Republicans voted for Trump, with some opting for third party candidates. What elites wanted in this election—elites from the Never Trump GOP types to Katy Perry and LeBron James—was rejected in an angry spasm by those who felt ignored one time too many. In the bitterest of ironies, they voted for the most elite candidate of the lot, cocooned in a world of chandeliers and self-absorption.


            This was the year of “change,” as we heard from pundits and from voters themselves. Bernie Sanders’ remarkable campaign revealed the desire for change as did Trump’s, though in quite different ways, their shared condemnation of trade agreements not withstanding. For some in the Trump camp, change meant new faces, not career politicians, and Trump’s gaffes and crude insults signaled how different he was. What is important to note, though, is that the message of change played side by side with Trump’s banner message to “Make America Great Again,” a look backward. Change meant reversal. “Make America Great Again” resonated deeply with many of Trump’s voters, and part of its effectiveness, I think, was the fluidity of meanings it had. For the folks I know in the Industrial Northeast, it meant a resurgence of some kind of manufacturing and a better quality of life. For those threatened by the speed of change on social issues, it meant a return to more traditional time—and for gun rights advocates, a quieting of any talk of regulation. For those whose fears of the foreign Other have been whipped up by Right-wing media—even though, given where they live, many have never encountered an African immigrant or Syrian refugee—for these folks Make America Great Again meant a return to a time (that might be more imagined than real) when everyone looked like them. And then there is the issue of race, which blended, as it often does, with economic issues, with nativism, and with law and order anxieties. Regardless of whatever progress we as a nation have made on race relations and racial justice, race remains a massively cofounding issue in our collective life. Trump’s campaign deserves national condemnation for the many ways it manipulated race to its advantage, from Trump’s own birther ploy to delegitimize our first Black president, to invitation of card-carrying White supremacists into his campaign, to the many ways the campaign wove race insidiously into other issues.
            The fact that during the campaign Mr. Trump and his circle were still accepted in New York high society reveals the most craven hypocrisy among monied elites—something that wouldn’t surprise my Rust Belt brethren. Charges of racism were countered through a ritual of personal testimony: people came forth to vouch that Mr. Trump or his advisors like Steve Bannon were not racist or Anti-Semitic for they hire people of color and Jews. This testimony overrides the public use of racist and Anti-Semitic language and symbolism for political gain. One of Trump’s wealthy supporters excused all the racist pyrotechnics by saying it was part of being a “disruptive” candidate! Disruption. Silicon Valley business-speak as a synonym for bigotry.


            As true and terrible as all this is, however, I think we on the Left side of our current nightmare need to be cautious about attributing any one motive to the whole swath of Trump voters, for that broad brush stroke is not only inaccurate but also will make it impossible to reach some segments of them in future elections. All the motives I sketched above, and some I didn't have space for (anti-government ideology, for example) came into play in this election. And I haven’t mentioned candidate Clinton herself; the intensity of dislike for her—cranked up by the Right’s Sleaze Machine—among some voters was motive itself to vote third party or vote for Trump. Trump’s surprising victory was the result of many forces in the United States coming together in the proverbial perfect storm. But even though certain of these forces such as race and nativism carried a lot of weight in this outcome, they do not explain every vote for Donald Trump.
            A professional lifetime of talking to people and trying to understand how they see the world cautions me to tease out the strands of motivation, to understand how people think and what moves them to action. Let me give you one small personal example, small, but one that reminded me of a powerful truth. During George W. Bush’s first term as president, I was driving with several of my relatives into Western Pennsylvania. My Uncle Joe was at the wheel. Joe Meraglio quit school in the 9th grade but worked his way from the assembly line at General Motors up to a supervisory position. He was a devout Catholic and a very by-the-book kind of guy. Somehow we started talking about immigration—Joe’s parents, my grandparents, both immigrated from Southern Italy—and I said something to the effect that at least Bush was better on immigration than some of his hardline Republican colleagues. Joe didn’t miss a beat. He said he didn’t like George Bush because “he’s against a woman’s right to choose.” What?! Joe Meraglio who never misses Sunday mass? Then, of course, it hit me. Joe’s two daughters, both quick, strong women, probably influenced him over the years. This was a reminder to me of a basic truth: People’s political beliefs can be complex, ideologically blended, not fixed.
            There’s much talk now among Democratic leaders about the need to reach the White working class, something Bernie Sanders’ candidacy made abundantly clear. Democrats have been talking about this need for outreach since they began to see their blue-collar base turn to Ronald Reagan. But they haven’t been very successful—though, to be fair, President Obama proposed large infrastructure projects but hit a stone wall in the Republican Congress. (With a GOP House and Senate Trump will likely have an early success on this front.) Two quick thoughts here.
            First, it will be difficult to reach some of these voters, for they are bitter and distrustful and for decades have been dialed into Right-wing media and now the Internet echo chamber, developing a coherent worldview that is hostile to many Democratic causes. Also their economic interests, in some cases, have gotten interwoven with other political and social issues: gun rights, immigration, abortion. Winning them over will not be easy and might well involve more than a jobs program. Still some of these folks did vote for Barack Obama, so the right kind of economic and educational initiatives could gain traction.
            Second, Democrats need to find the right people to not only deliver the message but also to learn the details of local conditions—and what is learned needs to have a fast-track conduit to the top levels of the party. I remember the unease I felt soon after the 2008 election when I saw either a photograph or video clip of President Obama talking with what might have been his Council of Economic Advisors, Austan Goolsbee and people like that. University of Chicago types. Suits. Something visceral in me registered no. These people are very smart but light years away from the guy on the forklift, the woman in a cannery. Find at least a few advisors with that level of economic expertise who also have an intellectual as well as emotional connection to the warehouse and the factory floor. In a recent article in the New Yorker the ever-astute George Packer interviews Larry Summers, Bill Clinton’s final Secretary of the Treasury, who admits that in all his trips to review antipoverty programs, he visited Latin America, Africa, and the poor sections of large American cities but never “Akron, or Flint, or Toledo or Youngstown.” An honest but stunning admission.


            As I’ve been arguing, people voted for Donald Trump for a wide range of reasons. I’ve been interested in those voters who saw in him an understanding of their hardship or at least an outsider who would shake things up in their favor: stop jobs from disappearing, or help restore their blighted neighborhoods, or control housing or food or health care costs. To comprehend this attachment to Trump, I don’t think we can underestimate the power of celebrity—and even though Donald Trump is unique in many ways, his rise to power should prompt a deep reflection on something we are all susceptible to: the potent celebrity culture of our time.
            And our time was primed for Trump. Politicians and politics have been degraded and in the eyes of many hold no virtue. The press is in financial turmoil and has been effectively maligned by the Right to such a degree that important investigative stories on Trump’s business dealings, his foundation, and his behavior were easily dismissed by Trump supporters and replaced with social media postings, including, we are discovering, fake news. There are certainly legitimate reasons to criticize our political class and the media—I have done both—but when major institutions are undermined, the result is not necessarily liberation, but chaos, generating the conditions for authoritarianism and demagoguery. Enter Donald Trump, a fabrication of the media he now assaults.
            It is eerily instructive to watch the creation of the man. Take, for example, his long involvement with WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment—he has been inducted into the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame. Trump’s blustery rally persona is not that far from trash-talking pro wrestlers hyping their next battle. Pro wrestling is all theater, of course, and Trump spent years around it, playing tough guy without having to take any of the actual life-shortening punishment of WWE’s leaps, slams, and tumbles.
            But it was The Apprentice that catapulted Trump to big-time national celebrity. There is much in the on-screen Trump that reflects the man himself—the arrogance, the narcissism—but what overrides all else is assurance and bone-crunching power. He can crush (“you’re fired”) and therefore he can create. The Thor of business. What remains hidden behind the illusions of the celebrity dream machine is Trump’s pathological dishonesty and long trail of raw deals: The decades of bankruptcies, legal maneuvers, swindles, exploitation of contractors and service providers, financial sleight of hand. When the reality of all this was revealed through investigative journalism, it was masterfully deflected by Trump and his campaign. The press was part of a corrupt and rigged system. Facts don’t matter. Nor does history. You can believe in this man. Welcome to electoral politics in the Age of the Kardashians.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Art of Interviewing

National Public Radio’s Series on Studs Terkel’s Archived Audio Tapes for Working.

If you are of a certain age, you’re probably familiar with the late Studs Terkel, particularly with his 1974 bestselling book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Terkel, who died in 2008 at the age of 96, was a journalist, radio host (his interview show on Chicago’s WFMT lasted over four decades), cultural critic, and oral historian par excellence. In addition to Working, he published collections of interviews with mostly common folk about the Great Depression, World War II, race in America, and a lot else. Studs Terkel was an American original and treasure. During the last week of September and first few days of October 2016, NPR played a series of short clips from the original recordings Terkel made for Working. http://www.npr.org/series/495535719/working-then-and-now The tapes were stored in his office and recently reviewed and edited by Radio Diaries and Project&. Thanks to them, we get to hear a telephone operator, a gravedigger, a female advertising executive, a Black Chicago policeman, a parking lot attendant, and more. A wonderful bonus is that the producers were able to track down several of the surviving people Terkel spoke with and have them reflect back on their earlier interviews. The segment with the Black Chicago cop, Renault Robinson, is powerfully timely.


For readers of this blog who are interested in interviewing, these little clips provide an abbreviated master class in the art of talking with people in order to learn about their lives. (One reason Working was such a hit was the depth of reflection and sheer humanity of the interviews.) Terkel will start with a question (for example, “Can you describe your day?”) then back off, but not too far, interjecting an affirmation, or a complementary laugh, or a reiteration of a key phrase the person said. He’ll gently request elaboration (“Can you say more?”) or ask a new question that shows how carefully he’s been listening to what’s already been said.

The NPR hosts’ commentary about the recordings as well as little moments in the recordings themselves provide some wonderful details about the settings of the interviews. Terkel conducted them in the early 1970’s—just over 130 interviews in all—and used a reel-to-reel tape recorder, a fact that is sobering to those of us using our four-ounce voice recorders or our cell phones. From the clips on NPR it sounds like he interviewed people at their job sites, when he could. So we get Studs at a cemetery talking to a gravedigger. Studs on the piano bench with a pianist in a hotel bar. And, my favorite, Studs in the front seat  of an automobile with the parking lot attendant “One-Swing Al” (named for his finesse in getting a car into a slot), both men smoking cigars and talking, the bulky recorder probably whirring between them.


I discovered Working soon after it was published and used some of the interviews from it in the college writing classes I was teaching. The book became a touchstone for me in many ways and was one of the early influences on the thinking and writing that would eventually become The Mind at Work. And as luck would have it, I got to meet Studs Terkel and be interviewed by him on his WFMT radio show. I cherish the memory; if you’ll indulge me, I would like to tell you about the interview.

I was on tour for the release of the paperback of Possible Lives, a book that chronicles my journey across the United States visiting good public school classrooms. Chicago was one of the cities on the tour, and the person hired by the press to accompany me to my interviews told me on the way to WFMT that the last time she took a guest to the show, Studs Terkel wasn’t doing so well and was scheduled for open-heart surgery. She hadn’t seen him since and wanted to warn me that he might not be up to par. After all, he’s 84 with coronary disease. So we’re sitting in the waiting area outside the recording studio, kind of expecting the worst. Five minutes. Ten. Then suddenly from around the corner of the studio, this short man in a bright red sweater under a suit jacket comes walking toward us at a brisk pace, waving a copy of Possible Lives over his head, greeting us in a strong, gravelly voice. It was Studs Terkel. The doctors clearly got his blood pulsing.

What also struck me once he and I were sitting close to each other in the recording studio was that he had actually read the book—at least some of it—and had sections marked and dog-eared. Pieces of paper stuck out from the pages. I can’t tell you how unusual this is. A small percentage of the interviewers you hear on radio or television talking with authors have spent any time with their books. The interviewers’ questions come from their producers’ notes, which typically originate with the book publishers’ publicity departments. During our interview, Studs would even refer to page numbers as he flipped through Possible Lives, finding this event… then this event that he wanted to discuss. And he wanted to discuss everything, quick comments and associations as he moved from one of the book’s classrooms to another. His style in his radio interviews—and, Good Lord, he’s interviewed everyone—is much different from his approach on the tapes for Working. http://studsterkel.wfmt.com/ Different styles for different purposes. The radio interviews are more rapidly interactive, almost associative at times, like talking with someone you know well over a few drinks, a mix of the casual and the intense, curious, sympathetically probing, locked into good talk. The interview is twenty years old now and of its time, but if you want to hear it, it’s on my website. http://mikerosebooks.com/Video___Audio.html

Listening to the NPR clips from the early-70s’ tapes that resulted in Working and thinking back to my fortunate interview with the man, I’m struck and moved by Studs Terkel’s commitment over a very long haul to serious, engaged talk, to learning about other people, to exploring with humane curiosity the nooks and crannies of the American social landscape. As I inch closer to Terkel’s age when he interviewed me, I’m also thinking about the importance of talk across generations, the power and pleasure of it and, sadly, how rare it is. For that fact, how rare authentic, sustained talk is, period. How seldom it is that we talk to each other with a true interest in where we came from and who we are. There’s so much that sits within Terkel’s opening question: “Tell me about your day,” and especially in the follow-up: “Can you say more?”

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Tips on Thinking and Writing

Seven pieces of advice for students entering graduate (or undergraduate) study in education—and a lot of other disciplines too.

Last week I had the honor of addressing the students entering several of UCLA’s graduate programs in education. I offered them seven thinking and writing tips that I believe will be helpful as they pursue their studies. These tips are also relevant to a number of other areas of study, and could prove useful to undergraduate students as well. With that, let’s enter the speech right after I made my introductory remarks.


You can call these tips habits of mind, or intellectual strategies, or principles of inquiry, or simply tricks of the trade that I’ve picked up over the years and am passing along to you to use in your thinking and your writing as you pursue your studies.

1) Pay attention to your writing. Many of us in education come out of the psychological or social sciences and never had the opportunity to focus on our writing and to get detailed feedback on it. But writing is an exceptionally potent tool for you regardless of the program you’re in. It will be invaluable in your classwork, and also professionally as you see things that trouble you and you want to give voice to or—something we don’t do enough—when you see things that need to be celebrated. Writing will be part of your intellectual and professional toolbox for the rest of your careers.
Take advantage of resources. There are undergraduate and graduate-level writing courses on campus. There’s a Writing Center. And when you form study groups—and I hope you do—make them writing and study groups.
Trust me on this. Regardless of the type of work you do and your future goals, the more effectively you can consider your audience, craft your argument, turn a phrase, the more likely you’ll achieve those goals.

2) Make your criticisms as even-handed as you can. You will be called upon while you’re here—and in many cases after you graduate—to critique a reading, or a policy, or an educational practice. Don't just be a flamethrower. Before launching into your critique do your best to present that reading, policy, or practice as fairly as you can, even if it irritates you to do so. Then develop your critique. Your critique will be all the more effective if your reader sees you being even-handed. Which doesn’t mean you’re being wishy washy or can’t take a strong point of view. You can. In fact, I think the strongest critiques are ones that fairly present elements of the argument, policy, or practice that you’re questioning—and then systematically, point-by-point deconstruct them or demonstrate their inadequacy.

3) Related to #2. Investigate the things that trouble you. Most of you as part of your program will visit schools or classrooms or tutoring or counseling sessions or some kind of community meeting or event. Sometimes you’ll be really impressed by what you see. And sometimes you’ll have questions. And sometimes what you see and hear seems wrongheaded, even harmful. Try your best to find out the rationale behind what you saw. Talk to people. Don't assume, explore. I’m embarrassed to tell you how often in my life I’ve made a quick judgment about something a teacher or principal or social worker did only to be humbled later when I learned the full background for their actions. But, let’s say that what you find out confirms your negative judgment. That will also happen. Well, then you will have a better understanding of what you saw, a deeper grasp of the dynamics and background factors of what troubled you—which puts you in a better position to critique what you saw in a substantial and principled way.

4) Types of evidence. In a lot of my work I rely on stories, vignettes, interviews, scenes from classrooms—qualitative data. But I also draw on numbers, statistical data on frequencies, percentages, ratios. And there are quotations from authoritative sources, from scholarly studies, policy reports, historical accounts, and the like. Unfortunately, some people think that numbers come out of the devil’s workshop or that stories are enjoyable but unsubstantial. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a general rule, the more kinds of evidence you have to support a claim or an argument, the stronger your claim or argument is. A story or a clip of an interview can be powerful and moving, but it becomes more convincing, I think, at least in some contexts, if it is paired with a statistic that demonstrates the story or interview is representative of a trend, is not an isolated occurrence. Likewise, statistics can be forceful, but they can gain additional strength to move people to action when they’re combined with a story that touches the heart. This combination of kinds of evidence, of statistic and story is often what we see in the successful passage of public policy.

5) Always remember, human behavior is complex, and certainly education is complex. There is rarely, if ever, a single explanation for anything. Think about your own behaviors. Can you explain why you’re here? Why you care for the people you care for? Your relationship with your parents? Even your sleeping and eating patterns? Can you explain any of it with one motive or cause? Probably not.
Because of this rich complexity, be cautious about attributing a single cause to any educational phenomenon or explaining it with a single perspective. This is the power, I think, of what feminist scholars and critical theorists refer to as “intersectionality.” That is, that social characteristics—race, class, gender, sexual orientation—intersect and interact. To best understand one, you need to look at all in context and interaction.
Now, of course, there are times when you do want to focus on a single phenomenon, a single possible cause because it has been under-acknowledged or ignored. We might want to shine a light on race or sexual orientation or, more specifically, we might want to focus on a single variable in, let’s say, academic achievement, or college-going orientation, or in the acquisition of language. Fine and good. There’s analytical reasons for doing this. But remember that the highlighted phenomenon or variable still plays out in everyday reality in concert with all the other bits and pieces of our complex lives.

6) Whatever it is you’re interested in or become interested in as you study here, learn its history.
You may be interested in teaching math in the primary grades or in diversifying and enriching the literature read in high school.
Or college affordability might be your thing.
Or maybe feminist standpoint theory.
Or you’re taken with a particular approach to student advising.
Or how about advanced statistical methods like Structural Equation Modeling or Item Response Theory. Maybe these are what you curl up with at night over a soothing cup of tea… or something stronger.
All of these have an origin. People have been working on them for a while, in some cases, a long while. Learning how something came into being and how it developed can be so useful in the present, affecting your understanding of it, its mistakes and blind alleys as well as the missed opportunities that remain to be seized—things you can work on. Knowing the past makes you a better practitioner in the present.

7) I just asked you to go deep in the past. Now I’m going to ask you to try to gain a wide, broad view of the present. It is the nature of graduate study that we specialize, we are trying to get very good at something that is pretty specific: in your case, in college advising, or in an area of teaching, or in a research topic. This is what we do. Every once in a while, though, look up from your specialization and survey the broad landscape of education and note where your specialization fits in. In the vast system that extends from pre-school to graduate school and includes adult school and occupational training, and much more, where does my contribution belong?  How does what occurs in the rest of the system affect my sphere of work? How does my work affect the rest of the system? Every so often, you want to ask yourself those questions.

So those are my seven tips. I hope you find them useful.

In wrapping up I’d like to offer this suggestion. A little while ago, I recommended that you always keep in mind the rich complexity of human life and educational practice and to not limit your vision to a single way of seeing. Well, speaking of different ways of seeing, you have here in your entering class a remarkable range of life experience, and educational and professional experience, and knowledge of disciplines and educational practices. What a reservoir of resources!  Graduate school is immensely stimulating but also taxing, growth-fostering but difficult. You’ll need good people around you to help you process it all. Get to know each other, form meaningful relationships, making sure that some of your new acquaintances have different backgrounds and interests from yours. You will benefit greatly from this diversity of background, interest, and knowledge. 

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Who Is Smarter Than Whom?: Status Games in Higher Ed

A while back I was reading letters of support for an award, and in one of the letters there was a demeaning characterization of the home academic department of the candidate. While the letter writer praised the candidate to the skies, the writer portrayed the candidate’s department—a department of great prestige outside of the candidate’s university—as being of marginal status in the eyes of those in other academic disciplines within the university. The letter writer wanted to assure anonymous evaluators like me that the candidate was of much higher intellectual quality than the candidate’s discipline would suggest. 

Boy, am I sick of this academic snobbery. 

What I read is not without its irony, however—worthy of the most trenchant portrayals of academic life (think David Lodge’s Small World or Richard Russo’s Straight Man). The discipline of the snooty letter writer is one that I heard routinely ridiculed when I was studying and then teaching in an English Department.

And so it goes in the academic status games.

Applied disciplines (e.g., journalism, nursing, management) have less status than “pure” ones: philosophy, biology, mathematics. And within disciplines there is typically a status hierarchy, with “theoretical” pursuits having more dazzle than applied work. Art history and musicology trump the making of art or music. The theoretical mathematician has the status edge on the applied statistician. The literary theorist sits on a higher rung—much higher—than those who teach writing.

Of course, these status dynamics are not absolute, are ignored, even subverted by some faculty, and an institution’s history and current reality come into play as well. And in our era of the “entrepreneurial university” and economic accountability, traditional academic status markers might lessen in importance; what will count will be enrollment numbers and the employability prospects of a given major.

Still, as someone who has spent decades at a research university running a tutorial center and a freshman composition program and then residing in a school of education—all quite low in that disciplinary hierarchy—I can tell you that judgments of intellectual virtue based on disciplinary affiliation are alive and well and factor into all sorts of behaviors and decisions, from departmental funding , to faculty promotion, to the letters written for honors and awards—like the one I read.

We have not even considered the more pronounced status differentials among various units at the college or university: for example student services versus academic departments. And then there are the loaded status distinctions made among the different kinds of institutions that comprise higher education in the United States: the community college versus the state college or university versus the research university—with research universities scrambling to climb to the top of their own heap.

All professions generate status distinctions, so why should the field of higher education be any different? Fair enough; I take the point. But the thing that gets to me in all this is that the distinctions are made through narrow and self-interested attributions of intelligence that hardly reflect the variety of ways people use their minds to apply knowledge, solve problems, reason and make decisions, and so on. Furthermore, intelligence doesn’t reside inert in a discipline or a kind of work or in one segment of a system rather than another; intelligence emerges in activity and in context. The attributions of intelligence I’m concerned with have much more to do with the preservation of power and prestige and turf rather than helping us all—faculty, staff, and students—improve on what we do. Faculty don’t get better at teaching by luxuriating in their bona fides or looking down on the department across the quad.

This last point about getting better at educating is at the center of a new book by my UCLA colleague, Alexander Astin, an expert on higher education in the United States. In Are You Smart Enough?, Astin argues that colleges—especially “elite” colleges—are more concerned with acquiring status markers of intelligence (high entering student gpas and test scores, faculty publication numbers, and so on) rather than creating the conditions for students to become more intelligent during their time in college. Instead of the scramble to attract students already identified as smart, Astin wonders, what if colleges put increased effort into helping students become smarter through more attention to teaching, mentoring, and enrichment activities? It’s a provocative and important question.

Back, now, to that letter. Over the years, I’ve spent time in many sectors of higher education, from a medical school to a community college tutoring center, and one of the things that has most struck me is the distribution of intelligence across the domains of the enterprise. To be sure, I’ve observed the routine pursuit of trivial research, uninspired teaching and unimaginative management, tireless self-promotion. A whole host of sins spread across areas of study and levels of the system. But I’ve also witnessed insight and inspiration, deeply humane problem solving, moments of brilliance in both a writing and a mathematics classroom, in a counseling session and in a meeting of tutorial center coordinators, in a laboratory and in a library. No little domain has a lock on being smart.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Challenges Facing the Guided-Pathways Model for Restructuring Community Colleges

This commentary appeared in Inside Higher Ed on June 23, 2016. It offers some thoughts on a currently popular and valuable reform strategy that is being considered and in many cases implemented by a number of community colleges across the country.


A much-discussed, comprehensive reform plan for improving community colleges and their low rates of student persistence and completion is the “Guided Pathways” model put forth by Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins’ in their book: Redesigning America’s Community Colleges. Published last year, the book condenses and focuses years of research -- a fair amount of which comes out of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, which Bailey directs. 

I support of the reforms laid out in book. But I also have some concerns -- maybe cautions in a better word -- about the social and political dynamics of establishing the Guided Pathways model, and about the complex nature of the typical community college student population.

In the book, Bailey and his coauthors locate the fundamental problem with the community college in the structure of its curriculum and the institutional assumptions that undergird that structure. In its attempt to serve all members of its area, the typical community college has allowed to proliferate a wide range of academic, occupational, general interest, and service courses and programs. Though some type of orientation and counseling and advising are typically available, quality and effectiveness vary, and counselors’ caseloads -- 1,000 students per counselor is not uncommon -- work against any substantial contact. Many students don’t utilize these services at all.

The authors label this arrangement the Cafeteria- Style, Self-Service Model. Students, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college, might enroll without a clear goal, get inadequate or incomplete advising or take courses that don't lead to a specified outcome are out of sequence or that they’ve already taken.

As a remedy, the authors suggest a basic redesign,, arguing that community colleges “need to engage faculty and student services professionals in creating more clearly structured, educationally coherent program pathways that lead to students’ end goals, and in rethinking instruction and student support services in ways that facilitate students’ learning and success as they progress along these paths.”
The authors acknowledge the laudable reforms attempted recently, such as improving the curriculum for remedial courses and streamlining them or creating programs at the front end of college to better orient and guide new students. But these reforms have had limited impact on completion, the authors claim, because the large macro-structure of the Cafeteria Model remained in place.

To realize the Guided Pathways Model, faculty and staff would create sequences of courses that lead to clearly defined outcomes. And  this major restructuring of the curriculum would provide direction for other significant institutional reforms that will aid in retention and completion. Faculty members who work within a particular pathway will together define the skills, concepts and habits of mind they want students to develop through the pathway “and map out how students will build those learning outcomes across courses.” At the front end, increased effort will go to helping students clarify goals and choose a major or “meta-major,” which would reflect broad areas of interest.  Orientation to college will be beefed up, and students will be enrolled in courses that provide ongoing information and guidance about college life. Through the increased integration of technology into advising, students will receive timely feedback on their progress, and instructors and counselors will be alerted when something goes awry --when a student drops a course, for example.

In addition, the authors adopt various promising reforms to remedial education, such as sequences featuring fewer, more intensive courses, and the use of additional instruction and tutoring. Their assumption is that improved remedial courses will function more effectively as part of a Pathways model, resulting in greater numbers of students moving into a college-level course of study.

Enacting the Model 

The Pathways idea is a good one. I have known so many students who would have benefitted tremendously from it -- would have taken fewer courses that were extraneous to their goals, used up less financial aid money, moved more quickly toward completion of a certificate or degree or toward transfer to a four-year school. And the suggested reforms that follow, especially related to orientation and advising, are long overdue. I raise similar suggestions in my 2012 book, Back to School. As for rethinking remediation, I’ve been on that boat for more than thirty-five years.

To achieve this restructuring  will require collaborative engagement on the part of faculty and staff, both within departments and across them. The authors realize the challenges of effecting such engagement and devote a chapter to the topic. They wisely begin the chapter by noting some of the difficulties, including the possible lack of trust among administration and faculty and staff; the divide between faculty and student services; the disruptive role played by dissenters.

The book then suggests strategies to work through these problems. For example, its authors suggest including dissenters in program planning, creating planning teams that combine faculty with student services personnel, the use of data to question current practices, and so on. Though this is a legitimate way to structure such a chapter, the structure implies that the barriers to change listed at the beginning of the chapter can be overcome with the management and group facilitation techniques presented in the remainder of the chapter -- an impression reinforced by the lack of any examples or discussion of what to do when the techniques fail.

The authors have a wealth of experience studying two- and four-year colleges, so they surely know how messy and unpredictable the process of reform can be. Perhaps they (or their editor) decided that it was best to present their model and a process to achieve it, and not to overly complicate things with extended discussion of potential pitfalls and blunders. Fair enough. And perhaps the authors’ disciplinary backgrounds in economics, public policy and quantitative methodologies limit their treatment of politics, ideology and the tangled day-to-day dynamics of status, power and turf -- which, depending on the institution, can include everything from budgets to racial tensions to contentious personal histories.

To limit treatment of all this is a legitimate choice, but should be stated and underscored, for my worry is that individual colleges attempting the reforms suggested by Bailey, Jaggars, and Jenkins will encounter more of a mess than anticipated and possibly scrap or significantly weaken the implementation of ideas that have real merit.

The organizational compartmentalizing and the administrative hierarchies that exist in the community college are not only structural features; they are electric with power and status. The various methods suggested by the authors to bring people together to work through these dynamics toward the common goal of creating Guided Pathways are good ones, tried and true in the toolkit of management consultants. But they also can be foiled by genuine ideological differences about the purpose of a particular area of study or of education in general. They can also be foiled by turf protection, administrative power struggles and pure and simple personal animosity.

To be sure, change happens. I’ve witnessed several successful programs take shape over the past few years as a core of energetic and creative faculty are given the resources to run with their ideas. But during that same time I’ve also seen such groups -- inspired, seemingly tireless people -- be stonewalled or shut down by larger groups of faculty within their subject area, by their department heads or by middle managers.
Bailey and his coathors suggest arriving at shared values as a starting place for examining current practices and changing them. For example, the authors write, “In our experience, faculty and staff choose to work at community colleges because they believe in the open-access mission and are passionate about improving students’ lives.” This is generally true in my experience as well, but with two qualifications -- which illustrate how arriving at shared values can be more complicated than it seems.

First, regarding the embrace of the open-access mission of the community college, a percentage of faculty at most institutions believe some of the students they teach should not be in college, and certainly not in their classrooms. These faculty align themselves with the universities that educated them, want to teach students who have some affinity with their discipline, and are not at all trained to work with students who are academically underprepared. In some cases, they are younger and work at the community college because that was the only position available in a tight job market. In other cases, these are older faculty who have been at the college for decades and lived through a significant shift in student demographics. They look back at a golden age -- one that most likely did not exist as they remember it.

Furthermore, faculty can have quite different beliefs about concepts like “improving students’ lives.” And some of these differing beliefs can present resilient barriers to change. One faculty member believes that to change methods of instruction will compromise standards and lead to sub-par education. Another believes that students -- particularly those with poor academic backgrounds --need to have positive experiences in school, so avoids challenging them intellectually. And yet another operates with racial, class or gender biases that limit what he or she thinks is realistic for some students in school or career.

Another assumption in the book is that when faced with data about student, instructor or program performance, faculty and staff with guidance will engage in reflection and behavioral change. Some people will respond thus -- and thank goodness for them. But other responses are also possible. People don’t believe the data -- especially in institutions where there is a high level of distrust between faculty and administrators. People question the way the data were obtained. People blame the students. This last response is a big one where test data or pass/fail rates are concerned. When faced with data demonstrating the low pass rates in remedial English or math, some faculty respond by stating that those students don’t belong here. As one community college staff member said to me, “It’s hard to admit we’ve been doing something wrong.”

For all its merits, the book’s implementation plan is sometimes thin on the political and social dynamics of institutional change. To work amid a complex human landscape, the plan  might well need to be combined with savvy, perhaps even  Machiavellian leadership; with horse-trading; with both symbolic and financial incentives; with the strategic use of personal relationships; and, unfortunately, at times, with reassignment or marginalization of obstructionist personnel.

Pathways and Students' Lives

The structural fix Bailey and his coauthors offer makes sense given the evidence that the status quo creates a host of barriers to student success. Still, like all structural remedies, this one runs the risk of reducing nuanced and layered human dilemmas to a technical problem, and thus being unresponsive to or missing entirely the particular life circumstances of students. So, yes, make the college curriculum more coherent, but realize that other human and material resources also will be needed to meet the needs of many students, and, as well, build into your structural changes the flexibility needed to honor the range of life circumstances your students bring to college. Otherwise, the fix may create unintended negative consequences.

A significant number of people who go to community college are adults with family and other responsibilities. They can only go part-time. They can’t go every semester. They sometimes quit in mid-semester because of family emergencies or changes in employment. They go to two or three different institutions. A Guided Pathways model could help them in some ways -- at the least lend coherence to their course selection -- but not necessarily speed up their progress through college. For them, evening or weekend classes, good online courses, legitimate competency-based options and counseling and advising in off-hours, weekends or online would also be necessary.

A different kind of problem lies at the other end of the college age continuum. We don't have in our country many avenues to help young people develop after high school. We don’t, for example, have a robust system of occupational apprenticeships or of national service. Young people who are not on the academic fast track and do not have a clear college goal have few options: entry-level, low-skilled, low-paying work or the military. Or they can enroll in the local community college hoping that some career path will reveal itself. Many such students don’t stay long, but those who do typically change their areas of study several times, shift between full-time and part-time attendance, start classes they don’t complete, stop-out and return to school. Eventually some find their way. A Guided Pathways model could help these students by more clearly delineating curricular and career options at a critical stage of early adult development.

But there are some powerful developmental dynamics going on here that lie beyond a structural fix in the curriculum. In interviewing such students, I’m taken by the simple but powerful fact that this process of discovery takes time. A lot of growing up happens: cutting back on partying and frivolous entertainments, changing one’s understanding of the purpose of school, bringing one’s fantasies in line with one’s abilities, learning how to manage time and to study. In some cases, students arrive at the big questions: Who am I? What kind of work do I want to do? What is meaningful work for me? Why am I on this Earth? It certainly could be argued that the community college is not the place to work all this out, but if our society provides limited transitional institutions or spaces, young people are left with few other options.

Then there is the issue of the burdens students carry. I am continually struck by the hardship experienced by so many community college students. To be sure, middle-class students from stable and secure backgrounds attend community college, but, depending on the location of the college, many students come from low-income to destitute families; have to work 30 or more hours a week; live in cramped housing, some of which is substandard; are food-insecure; and have health problems that are inadequately treated. For some, there are worries about immigration. Some must contend with prior involvement in the criminal justice system while others struggle with addiction.

In the book After Admission, sociologist James Rosenbaum and his colleagues make the critical point that a structural analysis of the problem with community college student success takes us “beyond individual blame” and focuses our attention on institutional factors that create barriers to academic progress. Bailey and his coathorsoffer a corrective to these problematic structural features. I do not intend to refocus blame on students, but I think it would be a mistake to not attend to the details of their lives while conducting this structural analysis. Otherwise the structural remedy might promise more than it can deliver -- thus threatening its longevity -- and also inadvertently contribute to the barriers students face by diverting attention from other remedies they need.

I do not want the issues raised here to be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. But even with the most coherent and streamlined curricular pathways, there will still be a number of students who enroll in one course at a time, who stop out, who take years to find their academic or occupational path, whose past blunders and transgressions continue to exact a material and psychological price, whose personal history of neglect and even trauma can cripple their performance.  All this and more require institutional responses beyond Guided Pathways (though the model could enhance these responses) as well as extra-institutional social services. The needs of the community college population require a range of programs and accommodations to make “the people’s college” more fully the uniquely American institution it, at its best, can be.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

"Grit" Revisited: Reflections on Our Public Talk about Education

            "Grit" is in the news again big time with the appearance of Angela Duckworth's alliterative best-seller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. I wrote about both the conceptual and methodological problems with grit last year, and given the attention Professor Duckworth's book is attracting, I thought it would be worthwhile to repost what I wrote below and add a few thoughts here.

            The book is drawing its share of mixed and negative reviews for superficiality bordering on pop psychology, for its narrow conception of character, for its focus on individual personality traits over social and economic factors, and for problems with methodology. Most of these characteristics were evident in Professor Duckworth's work long before the publication of her book, but it seems that they got amplified as she (and most likely her editor) prepared her book for a general audience.

            Given the number of mixed to negative reviews, it would seem that the opinion-makers are finally countering their original enthusiasm for grit. The ledger is balanced. Those of us with concerns about grit can relax.

            Well, no. The meteoric rise of grit reveals troubling problems in the formation of our public discourse about education. I and many others have written about our policy maker's culpability in the formation of this discourse, but here I'd like to consider another dimension of the circumstances that give rise to phenomena like the one we’re witnessing with grit.

            With some notable exceptions, not many journalists who cover education--and even fewer opinion page columnists--have a solid background in the field. The people who review the few books on education that get coverage--most of which are written by other journalists--are often culture critic types who are bright, to be sure, but not schooled on schooling...so they go to school quickly on the Internet, which will yield the mega-hit hot topics (grit, for example) and the people who champion them. This state of affairs hardly generates the kind of knowledge (and more to the point, understanding) that complex topics in education demand. Every concern now being raised about grit was there in plain sight for anyone who did some homework and consulted with a few dispassionate psychological or educational researchers. Oh, that those who contributed to the original frenzy had done so.

            The situation I just described leads to a small and closed circle of voices. The concept of grit got the huge attention it did because it was seen as a way to help poor kids persevere in school and achieve their way out of poverty. When the journalists and other writers I mention above are astute enough to question such claims and want to underscore the challenges of poverty, they will find via their search engines trending books and reports on education and poverty that suffer from the same one-dimensional and hot-topic focus as the treatments of psychological traits and character education.  So we end up with a constrained, sometimes problematic, concept of poverty used to counter a constrained, sometimes problematic, concept of character.

            I'm not sure how we get out of this mess, though I've been thinking a lot about it lately. I'll post those thoughts as soon as I can tame them into coherence.


            One of the many frustrating things about education policy and practice in our country is the continual search for the magic bullet—and all the hype and trite lingo that bursts up around it.  One such bullet is the latest incarnation of character education, particularly the enthrallment with “grit,” a buzz word for perseverance and determination.  Readers of this blog are familiar with my concerns and can read my earlier posts by clicking here, or go to a 2014 report on character and opportunity from the Brookings Institution in which I have a brief cautionary essay. I pulled much of this material together in "Being Careful about Character," a chapter in the 2014 revised edition of Why School?.
            In a nutshell, I worry about the limited success of past attempts at character education and the danger in our pendulum-swing society that we will shift our attention from improving subject matter instruction.  I also question the easy distinctions made between “cognitive” and “non-cognitive” skills.  And I fear that we will sacrifice policies aimed at reducing poverty for interventions to change the way poor people see the world.

            In this post, I would like to further explore these concerns—and a few new ones—by focusing on “grit,” for it has so captured the fancy of our policy makers, administrators, and opinion-makers.

            Grit’s rise to glory is something to behold, a case study in the sociology of knowledge.  If you go back ten or so years, you’ll find University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth investigating the role of perseverance in achievement.  This idea is not new in the study of personality and individual differences, but Duckworth was trying to more precisely define and isolate perseverance or persistence as an important personality trait via factor analysis, a standard statistical tool in personality psychology.  Through a series of studies of high-achieving populations (for example, Penn undergraduates, West Point cadets, Spelling Bee champions), Duckworth and her colleagues demonstrated that this perseverance quality might be distinct from other qualities (such as intelligence or self control) and seemed to account for between 1.4 to 6.3 percent of all that goes into the achievements of those studied.  (Later studies would find several higher percentages.)  These findings suggest that over ninety percent of her populations’ achievements are accounted for by other personal, familial, environmental, and cultural factors, but, still, her findings are important and make a contribution to the academic study of personality—and support a commonsense belief that hard work over time pays off.

            It is instructive to read Duckworth’s foundational scholarly articles, something I suspect few staffers and no policy makers have done.  The articles are revealing in their listing of qualifications and limitations: The original studies rely on self-report questionnaires, so can be subject to error and bias.  The studies are correlational, so do not demonstrate causality.  The exceptional qualities of some of the populations studied can create problems for factor analysis.  Perseverance might have a downside to it.  The construct of perseverance has been studied in some fashion for over a century.

            But Duckworth and her colleagues did something that in retrospect was a brilliant marketing strategy, a master stroke of branding—or re-branding.  Rather than calling their construct “perseverance” or “persistence,” they chose to call it “grit.”  Can you think of a name that has more resonance in American culture?  The fighter who is all heart.  The hardscrabble survivor.  True Grit.  The Little Train That Could.

            Grit exploded.  New York Times commentators, best-selling journalists, the producers of This American Life, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, educational policy makers and administrators all saw the development of grit as a way to improve American education and, more pointedly, to improve the achievement of poor children who, everyone seemed to assume, lacked grit.

            I’ll get to that last part about poor kids in a moment, but first I want to ask some questions few policy makers are asking.  What is an education suitable for a democracy?  What kind of people are we trying to develop?  What is our philosophy of education?  With these questions in mind, let’s consider some items taken from the two instruments Duckworth and colleagues have used in their studies.  The items are listed under grit’s two subscales, the factors that comprise grit:

Consistency of Interests Subscale:
·    New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.
·    I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.
·    I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one.

Perseverance of Effort Subscale:
·      Setbacks don’t discourage me.
·      I finish whatever I begin.
·      I have achieved a goal that took years of work.

These items are answered on a five-point scale:
Very much like me
Mostly like me
Somewhat like me
Not much like me
Not like me at all

            Let me repeat here what I’ve written in every other commentary on grit.  Of course, perseverance is an important characteristic.  I cherish it in my friends and my students.  But at certain ages and certain times in our lives, exploration and testing new waters can also contribute to one’s development and achievement.  Knowing when something is not working is important as well.  Perseverance and determination as represented in the grit questionnaires could suggest a lack of flexibility, tunnel vision, an inability to learn from mistakes.  Again, my point is not to dismiss perseverance but to suggest that perseverance, or grit, or any quality works in tandem with other qualities in the well-functioning and ethical person.  By focusing so heavily on grit, character education in some settings has been virtually reduced to a single quality, and probably not the best quality in the content of character.  The items in the grit instruments could describe the brilliant surgeon who is a distant and absent parent, or, for that fact, the smart, ambitious, amoral people who triggered the Great Recession. (Macbeth with his “vaulting ambition” would score quite high on grit.)  Education in America has to be about more than producing driven super-achievers.  For that fact, a discussion of what we mean by “achievement” is long overdue.

            But, of course, a good deal of the discussion of grit doesn’t really involve all students.  Regardless of disclaimers, the primary audience for our era’s character education is poor kids.  As I and a host of others have written, a focus on individual characteristics of low-income children can take our attention away from the structural inequalities they face.  Some proponents of character education have pretty much said that an infusion of grit will achieve what social and economic interventions cannot.

            Can I make a recommendation?  Along with the grit survey, let us give another survey and see what the relationship is between the scores.  I’m not sure what to call this new survey, but it would provide a measure of adversity, of impediments to persistence, concentration, and the like.  It, too, would use a five-point response scale: “very much like me” to “not much like me.”  Its items would include:
·        I always have bus fare to get to school.
·        I hear my parents talking about not having enough money for the rent.
·        Whenever I get sick, I am able to go to a doctor.
·        We always have enough food in our home.
·        I worry about getting to school safely.
·        There are times when I have to stay home to care for younger brothers or sisters.
·        My school has honors and Advanced Placement classes.
·        I have at least one teacher who cares about me.

            My guess is that higher impediment scores would be linked to lower scores on the grit survey.  I realize that what grit advocates want is to help young people better cope with such hardship.  Anyone who has worked seriously with kids in tough circumstances spends a lot of time providing support and advice, and if grit interventions can provide an additional resource, great.  But if as a society we are not also working to improve the educational and economic realities these young people face, then we are engaging in a cruel hoax, building aspiration and determination for a world that will not fulfill either.

            The foundational grit research primarily involved populations of elite high achievers—Ivy League students, West Point cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants—and people responding to a Positive Psychology website based at the University of Pennsylvania.  It is from the latter population that the researchers got a wider range of ages and data on employment history.

            I was not able to find socioeconomic information for these populations, but given what we know generally about Ivy League undergraduates, West Point cadets, etc., I think it is a safe guess that most come from stable economic backgrounds.  (In one later study, Duckworth and colleagues drew on 7-11 grade students at a “socioeconomically and ethnically diverse magnet public school” where 18% of the students were low-income—that’s some economic diversity, but not a school with concentrated disadvantage.)  It is also safe to assume that the majority of the people who are interested in Positive Psychology and self-select to respond to an on-line questionnaire have middle-class employment histories with companies or in professions that have pathways and mechanisms for advancement.  So the construct of grit and the instruments to measure it are largely based on populations that more likely than not are able to pursue their interests and goals along a landscape of resources and opportunity.  This does not detract from the effort they expend or from their determination, but it does suggest that their grit is deployed in a world quite different from the world poor people inhabit. 
            It is hard to finish what you begin when food and housing are unstable, or when you have three or four teachers in a given year, or when there are few people around who are able to guide and direct you.  It is equally hard to pursue a career with consistency when the jobs available to you are low-wage, short-term and vulnerable, and have few if any benefits or protections.  This certainly doesn’t mean that people who are poor lack determination and resolve.  Some of the poor people I knew growing up or work with today possess off-the-charts determination to survive, put food on the table, care for their kids.  But they wouldn’t necessarily score high on the grit scale.

            Personality psychology by its disciplinary norms concentrates on the individual, but individual traits and qualities, regardless of how they originate and develop, manifest themselves in social and institutional contexts.  Are we educators and policy makers creating classrooms that are challenging and engaging enough to invite perseverance?  Are we creating opportunity for further educational or occupational programs that enable consistency of effort?  Are we gritty enough to keep working toward these goals without distraction over the long haul?

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