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Sunday, October 31, 2010

The concept of "grit" and college

An excellent article about the importance of hard work and “grit” in success. “In 1869, Francis Galton published ‘Hereditary Genius,’ his landmark investigation into the factors underlying achievement. Galton’s method was straightforward: he gathered as much information as possible on dozens of men with ‘very high reputations,’ including poets, politicians, and scientists. That’s when Galton noticed something rather surprising: success wasn’t simply a matter of intelligence or talent. Instead, Galton concluded that eminent achievement was only possible when ‘ability combined with zeal and the capacity for hard labour.’”

But other key messages are also relevant to success and college. It turns out that those that can focus on specific learning and activities (rather than trying to do it all or learn it all) have the highest chance of success. It’s about selecting a specific goal off in the future and sticking to it. And hopefully the “goal” provides a reasonable chance to support an independent adulthood.

“Grit isn’t just about stubborn perseverance - it’s also about finding a goal that can sustain our interest for years at a time. Consider two children learning to play the piano, each with the same level of raw talent and each expending the same effort toward musical training. However, while one child focuses on the piano, the other child experiments with the saxophone and cello. The kid who sticks with one instrument is demonstrating grit. Maybe it’s more fun to try something new, but high levels of achievement require a certain single-mindedness.”

“While parents and teachers have long emphasized the importance of being well-rounded - this is why most colleges require students to take courses in all the major disciplines, from history to math - success in the real world may depend more on the development of narrow passions.” And I would add, “narrow passions” that have some customer demand willing to pay for them.

It really calls into question the whole notion of the classic Liberal Arts Education in college. One studies plenty of interesting subjects except specialized, technical or practical knowledge that would actually help the student land a good paying job. History is fascinating, Political Science is intriguing, Gender Studies is titillating and Ethnomusicology is of interest to some. But unless you are so dedicated to one of these fields that you are on in the top 1-2 % you have virtually no chance of landing a related job.

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