For a while I was into a New Age worldview where things happened spontaneously and one could realize or actualize their goals by merely manifesting them. How do I want to grow my business? Think big and it will happen! How can I earn more money? Don’t earn it, will that money into existence! You’ll be rich!
I’m not disillusioned from this New Age mindset… – okay…, well I am.
But I also don’t find it convincing when applied to pedagogy in the form of the concept of “grit” or “mindset.” And man, do I wish that I had walked into my first year teaching in a culturally and linguistically diverse school district having read Zaretta Hammond’s landmark book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.
As a teacher beginning in a linguistically and culturally diverse district, I actually thought that it would be racist and condescending to teach lessons that weren’t built around the concept of grit or mindset, and I thought that I could will independent learning into my students.
Really, I was amiss when I failed to train my students to become independent learners and I failed to realize that our educational systems in this country had trained my students to be dependent learners.
Hammond teaches that dependent learners get that way when their teachers underestimate what students growing up in adversity are actually capable of intellectually, and that therefore we do not give challenging or interesting work to them until they have the nuts and bolts mastered. How can students grow in this artificial and rote learning context? How can we expect them to be motivated or to enjoy school?
I knew that rote learning helped no one going in, and I didn’t want to stereotype students, and so I didn’t teach the nuts and bolts and magnified growth mindset.
Little did I realize that grit and growth mindset and stimulating material are nothing without relationships and trust that enable you to offer feedback to the students across racial and cultural and socioeconomic divides on those sensitive “nuts and bolts” details that can cause so much shame. To the advocates of grit and growth mindset “nuts and bolts” seem like building blocks of learning that are obsolete – we need students to be inspired by growth mindset and to possess grit. Really, you can’t get into the nitty gritty without trust and rapport paired with authentic and culturally relevant instruction – without all three you have nothing.
Buy Hammond’s book.
If you are reading Hammond’s book and are wary of social justice education, keep teaching and learning from that book if you really want to help your students. Relationships are the key connector between engaging dependent learners who are dependent through no fault of their own and maturing them into self-actualizing independent learners who can harness growth-mindset and grit.