Among life’s many mysteries is this one: Why do some people persist in the face of adversity and some others don’t?
Sure, the Internet is full of expertise on the subject — every overly simplistic thing from “because two parents are working” to “it’s the computer games” to “processed foods” — and it’s probably not any of those things.
It’s not that hard to find two children who grew up in the same home, same parents, same amount amount of love, and one persists and one gives up. Why?
It’s grit, Vox writer Libby Nelson writes today, suggesting it’s something that should be taught in school.
One of the reasons grit has become such a popular concept is that it applies across the socioeconomic spectrum. It speaks to worries that wealthy children are being coddled, and to the reality of obstacles that children from low-income families have to overcome in order to succeed, says David Meketon, a researcher at Duckworth’s laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania.
“People are just as worried about wealthy kids and their being fragile thoroughbreds and not being able to persist as they are poor kids who are struggling for other reasons,” Meketon says. “It’s this combination of helicopter parents on the one hand and parents that are struggling just to survive.”
Sound simplistic? It probably is because it doesn’t answer the question of why two young people in the same situation take different paths when facing obstacles. It doesn’t answer the question of whether it’s genetics, which raises the possibility that some kids are born to succeed, while others are predisposed to fail, even excluding socioeconomic factors.
Developing long-term persistence can be tricky. It’s particularly necessary for some physical activities, such as cross-country running and ballet, but research hasn’t proved that persistence in those areas translates to the classroom. And in some cases, the abilities don’t transfer, Meketon says: Kids who play sports can devote an extraordinary amount of time and energy to improvement while their sport is in season, but afterwards return to old habits.
Steinberg, an expert on adolescence, has ideas of his own on how to do so: maybe yoga, or mindfulness training.
“These kinds of activities might be harder to persuade schools to incorporate,” he said, in part because they take time that would otherwise be used for more academic instruction. But he said he’s convinced that they could lead to improved academic results as well.
Sure, maybe the answer is yoga. But probably not.
Related: Global Views of Economic Opportunity and Inequality (Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project).