Students need grit, and it's the school's job to foster grit.
Because grit is more important than knowledge.
Also: grit is best fostered by means of teachers telling students to do something they don't know how to do, then refusing to answer questions. In any other context, that would be rude, but never mind.
Our new superintendent, the one who was to bring accountability and every-child-every-dayness to our district, is a big fan of grit. Hosted a book club for parents on How Children Succeed the week after winter break.
He's a fan of Tony Wagner, too, while we're on the subject of expensive new superintendents with bad instincts. Vintage, pre-crash Tony Wagner, even better. (With increasing abundance, people want unique products and services!!!! So it's time to redefine rigor!!!)
Here's Hirsch. And here's Peter Meyer.
At Education Week:
Unlearning Learned Helplessness
"I need help," several students said in their geometry class at Esperanza Academy in Philadelphia.Bad character comes from sages on stages.
"I don't think so," teacher John Roman replied.
Roman had just given students a handout with several unmarked triangles on it, and asked them to determine which of the triangles were congruent. He also gave them patty paper (tracing paper), and said that it might help them complete the task. He did not, however, show or tell students what to do with it.
[K]nee-jerk calls for help are indicative of a common reason students don't learn to their potential: learned helplessness. They encounter an unfamiliar task (or word, formula, etc.), and immediately shut down or seek help.
The good news is that because it's learned helplessness, it can also be unlearned. And because students have learned it from enabling educators like me (until I stopped spoon-feeding them), we're in the best position to help them unlearn it....Turns out, for example, that John Roman's students had sufficient prior knowledge of congruent triangles. They were also more than capable of figuring out how to use patty paper to perform the assigned task. What they lacked was a problem-solving mindset. They lacked qualities such as determination and resourcefulness.
Yet students will only acquire those qualities if we put them in situations that require those qualities. ...After commiserating for a couple of minutes, a few students picked up the patty paper and began tracing triangles. Soon all students did this, with no help from Roman besides subtle reminders to a few students that the patty paper might be helpful.
The value for students of experiences like this has more to do with confidence than content. The more they learn with little or no help from us, the more they believe in themselves and their abilities. Sure it's important for students to learn math and science and social studies. But the real lesson for kids when teachers do what John Roman did is that confusion is where learning begins, not where it ends.
And the lesson for us as educators is that students will only unlearn helplessness when we unlearn helpfulness.
Good character comes from guides on sides.
A likely story.
For the record, actual learned helplessness has nothing to do with the scenario described above.
The term comes from Martin Seligman's experiments with dogs in the 1960s, which entailed giving the dogs electric shocks and inducing a state of "learned" helplessness, learned in the sense that after being repeatedly shocked with no means of escape, the animals learned not to even try to save themselves, not even when the avenue of escape was directly in front of them. Instead, when the shocks came on again, they trembled and cried, and displayed all the signs of human depression. The experiments were cruel, though I don't think the experimenters knew they were cruel, going in.
I was taught the learned-helplessness experiments in college, and the image that formed in my mind of the cowering, crying dogs too distraught to exit the shock zone -- or even try to exit -- has stayed with me.
(On the other hand, having since experienced a very similar scenario on two separate occasions, I now see things a bit differently. But that is a story for another day.)
For a teacher to appropriate the term "learned helplessness" as a description of his own students is wrong in so many ways.
UPDATE 3/17/2014: See Crimson Mom's comment. (And don't miss the never-to-be-missed Anonymous.)