Real Life, Real Challenges

According to a September 2011 report by Complete College America, 75% of community college students are commuters, often juggling multiple priorities (families, jobs, school).  As such, non-traditional students are the majority now. Beyond juggling multiple priorities, many community college students are also dealing with incredibly complex life challenges (e.g. homelessness, poverty). They have significant obstacles to overcome and burdens to carry. Survival becomes their most important (daresay only) priority. Finishing a class, an assignment, a semester, much less a degree, simply becomes insurmountable…for some, but not for others. Despite the obstacles and burdens, a few find a way or make a way to succeed. They develop the right kind of grit in the right ways for the right things.

Acknowledging that while some students have the odds stacked against them, too many students (for whom the odds are in their favor)  have difficulty dealing with normal challenges of daily living. Colleges are struggling with students’ increased neediness. This “emotional fragility” is also becoming a serious problem when it comes to grading. Dr. Peter Gray, Freedom to Learn, reported on declining resilience in Psychology Today (September 22, 2015). In November 2015, as a follow up to the initial article, Dr. Gray organized comments from the Sept. 22nd article into five perspectives about why students seem less resilient. These perspectives include: (1) primary and secondary school teachers; (2) college professors and other college personnel; (3) parents; (4) employers; and (5) students (perhaps the most compelling perspective of them all.)

According to Dr. Gray, students felt they had been born into a socioeconomic world that is far more competitive and less forgiving than the world of their parents or grandparents, a world in which failure is “not an option.” Students are expressing that the pressure to perform perfectly has created an unhealthy competitiveness and resulted in a “how do I compare” mentality. These comments reflect that students are exhibiting the worst qualities of GRIT. Rather than declining resilience, students are indicating they have developed the wrong kind of resilience in the wrong ways for the wrong things.

Dr. Paul. G. Stoltz defines GRIT as “your capacity to dig deep, to do whatever it takes – even struggle, sacrifice, even suffer — to achieve your most worthy goals.” (GRIT: The New Science of What it Takes to Persevere, Flourish, Succeed).  Beyond quantity of grit, his research indicates that quality is more more important than quantity. Quality, not quantify, of grit trumps the real (or perceived) challenges facing all students, regardless of their complexity.


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