For better schools: Teach kids about grit

The Takeaway

Story by The Takeaway. Listen to audio above for full report.

Schools teach kids about math and science, but maybe they should start teaching kids about grit. Two education experts believe that if schools focused on character strengths, they could improve education in the United States for both rich and poor kids alike.

To get there, Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, helped create the Grit scale to measure persistence and stamina among children. “Character has many dimensions,” Duckworth told The Takeaway. We want kids to be kind and caring. “In terms of achievement,” she says, “maybe the most important character strength is grit.”

Focusing on character strengths like grit could dramatically shift the focus of schools. “In education, we’ve long believed that character is really an important part of schools,” according to Dominic Randolph, headmaster the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx,” I just think it’s been relatively vague and rather general.” The grit scale is an attempt to change that. Randolph says, “we’re trying to be a bit more intentional and bring some science to the question of development of character strengths in kids.”

“When we don’t measure things in American education, they get completely flipped under the rug,” according to Duckworth. The grit scale is an attempt to put hard numbers behind the idea.

The measurement of grit is just the first step toward better education, according to Randolph. He says, “I think the most important part of it is sort of the discussions that evolve, based on thinking about developing character strengths and a certain set of character strengths.”

Psychological research has also found that people can improve their grit. While some personality traits remain stable throughout a person’s life, nothing is set in stone. Duckworth says, “personality and character are stable but not static.”

Educators shouldn’t neglect topics like science and math in favor of more character focus, according to Duckworth and Randolph. “Character and academic performance are complementary, not competing,” Duckworth says. If children learn to develop more grit, they’ll likely do better in all other parts of school, too.


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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