This morning as I was checking my twitter stream, I saw that grit had come up again, this time in a chat. The entire concept of grit has been pointedly criticized because it can be summarized as “the ability of poor and/or minority kids to overcome challenges that the white and well-off never have to face.” When your narrative applies only to one ethnic group or economic class, it says less about them than about the system that surrounds them. A recent Atlantic article which describes the lives of students who, in a formally designed education-industry parnership, work the graveyard shift in exchange for tuition remission, sounds very similar. If your parent is a hedge fund manager, you don’t have to even think about how to solve this kind of problem.
Then I got to thinking about doctors (of the medical variety) and face a conundrum. Every doctor I’ve ever known has said the process of becoming a doctor was difficult and required them to push themselves through all sorts of challenges. Many of the behaviors we ask of aspiring MD’s (cramming for MCAT’s , surviving the schedule of medical residency) look like what the grit narrative asks of those who are poor. Is medical education an example of a bad system, that applies the harsh demands of the grit narrative to even those who aren’t poor or minority, if they progress in the the most competitive parts of the educational system, or is there another explanation? Is there some sort of substantive difference between the two models, one being bad and coercive, the other being strenuous and character-building in a Teddy Roosevelt kind of way?
I am pondering all this in part because of one of my children, who has, for almost half their life, answered the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the answer pediatric neurosurgeon. Said child is bright and inquisitive, and hasn’t demonstrated all that much grit. But he/she hasn’t had too, yet.