Brooks and Cohen

In “Putting Grit in Its Place” Bobo gurgles that an education system that was truly aligned with kids’ potential would focus less on G.P.A.s and more on innate aspiration.  “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “I don’t think Mr. Brooks need worry about all those students who strive for a 4.0 grade average. Our exceptional country is sinking on every scale by which great nations are measured, including education. Besides, his appeal for students to de-emphasize the G.P.A. herd mentality for individual interests is a little ironic, since he’s often railing about the evils of individualism.”  Mr. Cohen considers “Sadiq Khan vs. Donald Trump” and says the new mayor of London is a Muslim. Trump would bar him from the United States.  Here’s Bobo:

We all know why it exists, but the grade-point average is one of the more destructive elements in American education.

Success is about being passionately good at one or two things, but students who want to get close to that 4.0 have to be prudentially balanced about every subject. In life we want independent thinking and risk-taking, but the G.P.A. system encourages students to be deferential and risk averse, giving their teachers what they want.

Creative people are good at asking new questions, but the G.P.A. rewards those who can answer other people’s questions. The modern economy rewards those who can think in ways computers can’t, but the G.P.A. rewards people who can grind away at mental tasks they find boring. People are happiest when motivated intrinsically, but the G.P.A. is the mother of all extrinsic motivations.

The G.P.A. ethos takes spirited children and pushes them to be hard working but complaisant. The G.P.A. mentality means tremendous emphasis has now been placed on grit, the ability to trudge through long stretches of difficulty. Influenced by this culture, schools across America are busy teaching their students to be gritty and to have “character” — by which they mean skills like self-discipline and resilience that contribute to career success.

Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania is the researcher most associated with the study and popularization of grit. And yet what I like about her new book, “Grit,” is the way she is pulling us away from the narrow, joyless intonations of that word, and pointing us beyond the way many schools are now teaching it.

Sure, she starts the book by describing grit as persevering through unpleasantness. She describes Beast Barracks, the physical ordeal that first-year West Point cadets have to endure.

She writes about high school students who grind away at homework for hours and athletes capable of practicing in the most arduous way possible.

And yet Duckworth notes that moral purpose also contributes to grit. People who are motivated more by altruism than personal pleasure score higher on grit scales. She also notes that having a hopeful temperament contributes to perseverance.

Most important, she notes that the quality of our longing matters. Gritty people are resilient and hard working, sure. But they also, she writes, know in a very, very deep way what it is they want.

This is a crucial leap. It leads to a very different set of questions and approaches. How do we help students decide what they want? How do we improve the quality and ardor of their longing?

The G.P.A. mentality is based on the supposition that we are thinking creatures. Young minds have to be taught self-discipline so they can acquire knowledge. That’s partly true, but as James K. A. Smith notes in his own book “You Are What You Love,” human beings are primarily defined by what we desire, not what we know. Our wants are at the core of our identity, the wellspring whence our actions flow.

At the highest level, our lives are directed toward some telos, or vision of the good life. Whether we are aware of it or not, we’re all oriented around some set of goals. As David Foster Wallace put it in his Kenyon commencement address, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.” Some worship money, or power or popularity or nursing or art, but everybody’s life is organized around some longing. The heart is both a driving engine and a compass.

I don’t know about you, but I’m really bad at being self-disciplined about things I don’t care about. For me, and I suspect for many, hard work and resilience can only happen when there is a strong desire. Grit is thus downstream from longing. People need a powerful why if they are going to be able to endure any how.

Duckworth herself has a very clear telos. As she defines it, “Use psychological science to help kids thrive.” Throughout her book, you can feel her passion for her field and see how gritty she has been in pursuing her end.

Suppose you were designing a school to help students find their own clear end — as clear as that one. Say you were designing a school to elevate and intensify longings. Wouldn’t you want to provide examples of people who have intense longings? Wouldn’t you want to encourage students to be obsessive about worthy things? Wouldn’t you discuss which loves are higher than others and practices that habituate them toward those desires? Wouldn’t you be all about providing students with new subjects to love?

In such a school you might even de-emphasize the G.P.A. mentality, which puts a tether on passionate interests and substitutes other people’s longings for the student’s own.

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The most important political event of recent weeks was not the emergence of Donald J. Trump as the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party but the election of Sadiq Khan, the Muslim son of a London bus driver, as mayor of London.

Trump has not won any kind of political office yet, but Khan, the Labour Party candidate, crushed Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative, to take charge of one of the world’s great cities, a vibrant metropolis where every tongue is heard. In his victory, a triumph over the slurs that tried to tie him to Islamist extremism, Khan stood up for openness against isolationism, integration against confrontation, opportunity for all against racism and misogyny. He was the anti-Trump.

Before the election, Khan told my colleague Stephen Castle, “I’m a Londoner, I’m a European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband.”

The world of the 21st century is going to be shaped by such elided, many-faceted identities and by the booming cities that celebrate diversity, not by some bullying, brash, bigoted, “America first” white dude who wants to build walls.

It is worth noting that under the ban on Muslim noncitizens entering the country that Trump proposes, Khan would not be allowed to visit the United States. To use one of Trump’s favorite phrases, this would be a “complete and total disaster.” It would make America a foul mockery in the eyes of a world already aghast at the Republican candidate’s rise.

Khan’s election is important because it gives the lie to the facile trope that Europe is being taken over by jihadi Islamists. It underscores the fact that terrorist acts hide a million quiet success stories among European Muslim communities. One of seven children of a Pakistani immigrant family, Khan grew up in public housing and went on to become a human rights lawyer and government minister. He won more than 1.3 million votes in the London election, a personal mandate unsurpassed by any politician in British history.

His election is important because the most effective voices against Islamist terrorism come from Muslims, and Khan has been prepared to speak out. After the Paris attacks last year, he said in a speech that Muslims had a “special role” to play in countering the terrorism, “not because we are more responsible than others, as some have wrongly claimed, but because we can be more effective at tackling extremism than anyone else.”

Khan has also reached out to Britain’s Jewish community, vigorously disavowing the creeping anti-Semitism in Labour ranks that last month saw Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor, suspended from the party.

As George Eaton observed in The New Statesman: “Khan will be a figure of global significance. His election is a rebuke to extremists of all stripes, from Donald Trump to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who assert that religions cannot peacefully coexist.”

Trump as a politician is a product of American fear and anger above all. In the past several weeks, a U.C. Berkeley student has been escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight because he was heard speaking Arabic, and an olive-skinned, curly haired Italian Ivy League economist was taken off an American Airlines flight because he was spotted scribbling mathematical calculations that his seatmate found suspicious.

Trump — described to me by Norm Ornstein, the political scientist, as “the most insecure and ego-driven person in the country” — is the mouthpiece of this frightened America that sees threats everywhere (even in an Italian mathematician).

When Trump declares, “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” the rest of the world hears an angry nation flexing its muscles.

Khan’s rise, by contrast, is a story of victory over the fears engendered by 9/11. His victory is a rebuke to Osama bin Laden, the Islamic State, jihadi ideology of every stripe — and to the hatemongering politicians like Trump who choose to play the Muslim-equals-danger game. Khan has argued that greater integration is essential and “too many British Muslims grow up without really knowing anyone from a different background.”

Sigmund Freud wrote, “It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.” Donald Trump has written: “I have learned to listen and trust my gut. It’s one of my most valued counselors.” He recently said, “We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable.”

Right.

Put together an egotist, a bully, immense power and a taste for gut-driven unpredictability and you have a dangerous brew that could put civilization at risk. Those small fingers would have access to the nuclear codes if Trump was elected.

In this context, Sadiq Khan’s victory is reassuring because he represents currents in the world — toward global identity and integration — that will prove stronger over time than the tribalism and nativism of Trump.

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