No grit? Ouch. That hurts, doesn't it?
Maybe the person who said that to you tries to couch it a bit, and says, something like "Well, maybe not you, but educators...they have no grit. And they certainly have no sense of reality." Ouch again. You are an educator, and you feel like you have grit, and not just a little bit. Reality? They have NO idea about your reality. Come walk a mile in my shoes, fella. "Why is this person stereotyping me?", you think.Have you heard these types of statements about 'kids these days'? I have, and continue to hear things like this wherever I go, almost regardless of the crowd that I happen to be chatting with.
"Kids these days have no grit."
"Kids have too much screen time"
"Kids never walk to school anymore"
"Kids don't want to pay attention in class"
"Kids today have no sense of reality--they live in a dream world."I won't lie, there was a point in my teaching career when I made these types of comments: that was a long time ago, and I don't make them anymore because I realize that I was being condescending and, more importantly, I was being hypocritical. In education, we can often be quick to point our fingers at kids, but I feel like we need to have a quick peek in the mirror, especially when it comes to the piece about 'reality'. To do this, let's consider the five "Kids..." statements above with the finger pointed the other way---right back in our own noses.
As adults, do we have grit? Let's take an example such as implementing technology. How many times have you heard "we need to go slow with this stuff", and "we need to make this really easy for people", and "we really need to honor that people are going to find this difficult and respect them as learners". Why do we feel that kids, who so clearly have less skills and experience than we do, need to experience (and enjoy?) more challenging things than we do as adults? How many times have you been introducing something like a Google Doc, only to hear people holler "This isn't working! I need some help over here." and roll their eyes, only to wander over and click one link for them, and have them say something like "Well, that wasn't working a minute ago.". Technology aside, it seems that we have to "be strategic" when we are introducing new concepts, ideas or pedagogies to us as educators because "people struggle with change". And heaven forbid we actually move forward with something new and it doesn't work perfectly in the early stages--the chorus of comments such as "I knew this was a bad idea", or "I told you this wouldn't work" will be deafening. If a panel of students were watching a group of us learn about a new application or piece of software, would they consider us to be "gritty"?
As adults, do we limit our screen time? While there are those of us who don't watch TV, who don't play on their iPad at night, who don't look at their phones first thing in the morning, who don't text and drive, and who don't have a 'date night' with their spouse that looks suspiciously like two adults in sweatpants with their laptops open in front of this week's episode of 'Shark Tank', there are many of us that DO spend this much time in front of a screen, not to mention the few (or several?) hours per day that we spend on our computers at work! I am not too proud to admit that I am starting to look at progressive contact lenses because my eyes are on a screen for much of the day. A typical student spends no where near this amount of time in front of a screen that many of us might as educators, and even if they wanted to, most of them have to 'power down' in the places where it would be most helpful and relevant to be 'powered up'--schools!
As adults, do we walk to school? Seriously. I don't even get out of my vehicle to get a coffee: I go through the drive-thru at Starbucks so often that my daughter actually said "Dad, I think you are going to turn into a Grande Dark Roast.". Let's not even get started on adult levels of physical activity: I used to be able to dunk a basketball, and now I would pop an Achilles tendon even trying to touch the net. And the best part is, as adults we have no excuse, we should know better: we know that we should be modeling healthy eating and physical activity, and yet the actual number of us who consistently demonstrate these sorts of positive and healthy behaviors does not even remotely garner us the credibility to judge kids on their levels of health and fitness.
As adults. do we 'pay attention in class'? Are you always 'locked in' at a faculty or district meeting? At a professional development day? At a conference? Do you check your email, text a friend seated at another table, do marking or prep, or just self-regulate during these 'classes'? Especially if the format is "sit 'n' git", where someone is standing at the front and lecturing you without creating a task that allows you to interact with your colleagues and the content that you are working on? I will be the first to admit, I am not. If there is a task that requires me to engage with my colleagues my tech is tossed to the side, but if there isn't, well....I am addicted to my devices.
As adults, do we truly have a sense of reality? Maybe. In fact, let's pretend we do. Let's pretend that we know the skills that students will need to be successful in 2030 and beyond, and we are well down the road in creating literate, critically-thinking problem-seekers who can collaborate with others all over the globe to solve issues before they become issues. And let's pretend that our experiences that we have gained over our thirty, forty or fifty plus years on this earth have allowed us to determine each of the parameters and pitfalls that will confront our Utopian, idealistic children. And let's also pretend that the 'realities' of our past are the same realities that our children will face in the future (which we know is complete absurdity, but let's continue to delude ourselves). Even if we pretend that our reality paints a remotely accurate picture of the future, my question is:
Do we want the next generation that is going to be taking care of us in the future to be doubting themselves right out of the gate, and thinking their ideas are 'impossible' because we have never done them?
Do we want our imposed 'realities' to take the multi-colored and animated vision that our children have and turn it into monochrome, black and white? Coming back to our initial "Kids..." statement, how is bestowing our view of 'reality' about our students' ideas promoting 'grit'? I myself have created, prototyped, tested, iterated and launched exactly ZERO things or ideas, so I don't know that I am particularly qualified to limit the thoughts of our youth with my 'realities'.
In her amazing TED talk to a large group of adults called "What Adults Can Learn From Kids", teenager Adora Svitak says
"Maybe you have had grand plans before, but stopped yourself, thinking "That's impossible," or "That costs too much," or "That won't benefit me." For better or for worse, we kids aren't hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things. Kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking, such as my wish that no one went hungry, or that everything were free.
How many of you still dream like that, and believe in the possibilities? Sometimes, a knowledge of history and past failures of Utopian ideals can be a burden....we kids still dream about perfection. And that's a good thing, because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first."
Things such as grit, moderation of screen time, health and exercise, and attentiveness are things that are issues with some of our youth...just as there are issues in these areas with some of our adults. As adults, not only do we have to recognize ourselves as role models and demonstrate the things that we expect from kids such as grit and healthy choices, we must also recognize that there is much to learn from our youth and what they model through their actions, specifically when it comes to dreaming of new ideas without the the 'experiential baggage' acquired from a vastly different era.
Call me Polyanna, but perhaps we can re-jig the "Kids.."statements to things like...
"Kids these days have a tremendous amount of grit when they are given tasks that challenge and engage them."
"Kids will use technology to learn about things that are important to them at almost any hour of the day"
"Kids walk to school as much as we walk to work"
"Kids pay attention to things that are important, just like we do"
and maybe most importantly,
"Kids have no sense of reality--they live in a dream world. Let's help them dream as long as they can."
Take 20 minutes to watch Adora, and perhaps even show it at a faculty meeting--it will spark all sorts of interesting discussion.