"Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration."
Every December, I request and, because my wife is good to me, I receive two compilations of the year’s “Best American Science Writing." The essays are far ranging in their topics from cutting-edge genetics research (which I struggle to understand) to high-level physics (which I never understand). Nobles students think I’m a little… colorful when they hear me excitedly discuss a particularly interesting article. By way of example, there was a fascinating story about a company that was introducing spider DNA into goats in an effort to mass produce a milk/spiders' silk material. The milk/silk they were attempting to create would be stronger than steel and completely organic. The company folded before they could make it work, although they sold the science to another company that is still giving it a go.
This year, I had high expectations for an article entitled “The Truth about Grit” by Jonah Lehrer. The author explained how researchers were working to define “grit” and to explain why it was valuable. One anecdote from the essay that I found interesting: Researchers isolated a large group of fifth-grade students and gave them an aptitude test. At its conclusion they split the group in two and to one group they praised the students specifically for their hard work, i.e. “Congratulations, you really worked hard on this test”. With the other sample set, they praised the students for their intelligence, “Congratulations, you are clearly very smart.” They then gave the same group a test which was much harder, designed for eighth-grade students – not fifth graders. The sample set that was praised for their effort scored better than the sample set that was praised for their intelligence. The conclusion is easy to draw: If students feel good about the effort that they put in, they are more likely to continue to work hard. Young people who have been praised for their “grit” are less likely to give up quickly when the going gets tough. They realize that serious effort is both praiseworthy and a successful strategy.
I believe that all students, with a little effort, can recite my “Big Three.” 1. Be Good to Each Other, 2. Be Honest and 3. Work Hard. We need, both at home and at school, to continue to find the moments to celebrate effort. I understand that because we give grades, for example, we could be taken to task for valuing results too much. (In my class, I tell my students to look at the grade as a way of charting their own performance. Some do, but all are interested in what the student next to them “got” when tests are handed back.) I am unapologetic, however, that we work both to value effort and provide the reality of grades to Nobles Middle Schoolers. The efforts that I have seen to minimize grades always fall short, with Middle Schoolers quickly designing their own methods of ranking.
I have discussed the "Grit" article with the members of the Core Faculty. We are looking for even more opportunities to ensure that we talk about the value of effort with our advisees and our classes. As always, however, we need to hit young people with these ideas from all sides: it is a great topic for parents and guardians to address as well. Adults often strive to “make things look easy.” Perhaps sharing a few stories with your children about when your own success was due to a supreme effort and not an innate talent could go a long way.