Why grit is highly overrated

Margaret Wente:

When I was six, I had a dream. I dreamed of being a ballet dancer, floating across the stage in my white tutu and tights. I would dazzle the world! Alas, I never made it. I was built like a brick, and had no sense of rhythm. I had plenty of determination, but so what? Not even 10,000 hours of practice would have made me fit to carry Karen Kain’s pointe shoes.

The notion of “grit” – a combination of hard work and

perseverance – has caught on everywhere. It has been widely embraced by educators, along with its companion, “character education.” Grit is based on the idea that intelligence isn’t everything, or even the main thing. Non-cognitive factors are just as important to school success. Teach them grit, the theory goes, and even mediocre students can become high achievers.

If only it were true. Alas, it’s not. The most significant predictor of how kids will do in school is how their parents did in school. Nothing the education system has tried so far has changed that. The latest confirmation comes from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It assessed the data from test results in the U.K., where everyone takes a universal exam at the ageof 16. The researchers focused on the test scores of 2,321 twin pairs, who are part of a long-term study to determine the various influences of environment and heredity on behaviour and life outcomes. Their conclusion is both good news and bad news for those who think intelligence is highly overrated. They found that educational achievement does indeed depend on far more traits than just IQ. The bad news: Those traits are highly heritable, too.