I believe in the principles of delayed gratification, teaching people to sustain effort through parts of a task that may be boring or difficult. I agree that we do not sufficiently prepare for it. It isn’t necessary that all work have a candy coat or that part of every lesson’s job be the sell. There is something to be said for teaching children to use their internal stores to make it through to a reward that is down the road. Football practice includes running through tires. Piano requires redundant scales to limber fingers. How do you make it to the gym on cold mornings? You never ask yourself if you feel like it. So, I agree that there’s a problem with demanding that everything in education be served with a thick layer of diversion. It creates soft people who expect entertainment, or worse, reward for the lifting of every small pinkie. It is good that sometimes children and adults be expected to hunker down through difficult tasks. After all, we all have to delay gratification for our long range goals.
So why do I feel so itchy about the new national expectation that we teach some grit? Perhaps it is because I am more suspicious of my society than I used to be. I don’t know what grit is for anymore. I don’t much like having corporate CEOs buying public servants or using the American middle as a personal playground for their next new (profitable or philanthropic) idea. I am concerned that while Citizens United v the FEC gives corporate entities the status of individual, individuals are being stripped of the right to bargain collectively. It is troubling to witness the collapse of the public sector as essential services are shifted to private investors. I am told that schools, health care, prisons, and utilities should be run like or by business even though capitalism has proven time and again that in a conflict between profit motive and the public good, profit motive wins. I am not happy to see privatized healthcare, prison systems and public education. It doesn’t benefits me to have my tax dollars siphoned away from services to enrich companies and shareholders. I wonder why my tax dollars should not to be returned to my neighbors in the form of programs and infrastructure or to my middle class neighbors in the form of decent wages. Is it better going into the pocket of entrepreneurs? I don’t think so. How does out-sized success for a few people help an entire community thrive? I am told that it results in jobs, but I notice that often it does not. I am assured that it will result in better service, but how is that so? The bottom line of even socially conscious entrepreneurship is profitability. I notice that takes every bit of grit, perseverance and tenacity I have just to handle the paper wall between me and reimbursement from my previously non profit health insurance company. I cringe to consider in what prison entrepreneurs have their interests vested. How did we arrive at a society in which there is a profit to be gained from incarceration? From theft of service? From pared down social infrastructure?
I have to ask: what does grit stands for in this crazy culture we are incubating? What kind of grit are we selling? If you read the (revised) the government’s treatise on : Promoting Grit, Perseverance and Tenacity: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, it sounds okay… just a big jargoned up effort to raise children to be gritty about their own success. But, when I first read this treatise a few years ago, there was (I swear) a small section that justified the teaching of grit as necessary because as adults, students would spend most of their lives doing things they did not want to do. I can’t seem to find that section anymore. I wonder why? Perhaps it was just a bit too true.
Or perhaps it is still there, but I don’t wonder why it might have been removed. A savvy government owned by corporations doesn’t tell parents that their children will labor in jobs they’d rather not do. They let Tom Friedman (Or was that Milton Friedman) tell them. A savvy government tells parents that their children can be anything they put their minds to, that the sky is the limit… if they have enough grit and if their teachers were only a little bit better. A savvy government doesn’t point to the unemployed college graduates or the ones working in the same clothing store that they worked in all through college. It doesn’t point to 50 year olds who have been out of work for the last 5 years. It doesn’t tell its citizens to look at the ages of workers in Starbucks and Costco. Or at the food banks that replace decent wages among the working poor. It doesn’t tell you that the 200% above the stated poverty level is poor enough to be on food stamps. So, when I look at the culture of work in America today, I think grit may mean something quite a bit less appealing than push for your own success.
Corporate reform tell us that we need to be more competitive in a world economy. But what does that mean? It means you need grit, America. And, the job of teachers is to prepare children for the grit that is coming. The new grit is the grit to meet the company goals and preference them over all else, the grit to accept lower paying jobs with fewer benefits so that we can compete with workers all over the world. The gritty adult in the 21st century isn’t one who delays gratification for some future personal gain; the new gritty adult is learning how to remove personal expectation.
This newly gritty adult is a free agent, not a victim of entitlement. They’re a value added subset in a spreadsheet of corporate assets… an entrepreneur whose job it is to eke out survival, one private contract at a time. As more work goes overseas or is automated, as many remaining jobs are de-professionalized, this adult has the grit to provide enough service to warrant being among the lucky ones to have a paycheck. Gritty adults remain flexible because they know that they can expect to be fired at will, even those that provide good service, especially as they become more expensive. (ps. Gritty adult, don’t be too in love that promotion because your removal will grow from its seed… be cheap, stay cheap, don’t age and… whatever you do…don’t complain).
Grit is what’s new for dinner. Expect to eat it in a declining culture with more profit accruing to a few at the cost of fewer and fewer jobs for the many at lower and lower wages. Gone is the 9 to 5. Gone are weekends and time off. The gritty go getter takes texts and calls and emails at any time. Being entrepreneurial means never saying no. Successful adults will be the ones with enough “grit” to solve their own problems with what remains from their post 12 hour work days. But, it’s okay. They are free and flexible agents of change.
The “new reality” is diminished government and legislative allegiance to a deregulated, profitable corporate shadow government. In this brave new society, survival, collapsing family structure and eroding sense of community are strictly private concerns. It will help if you expect to have fewer expectations. Be in it to win it. Be thankful. Be self dealing.
This is the grit that we’re selling our children. The test of their mettle. Their inheritance is a society that no longer has a center.