Educators are hearing a lot about “grit” and the need to help kids persevere toward long-term goals. We’re told we need to deliver lessons about how successful people got there by keepin’ at it.

But is grit the new bootstrap? And can an individualistic focus on grit keep kids from thinking critically about the social structures that impact their efforts?

The narrative in the US is that hard work reaps success (typically defined in material terms). But the evidence keeps mounting that race and socioeconomic status are bigger predictors of advancement. For example, you’re 2.5x more likely to be wealthy as an adult if you were born wealthy and didn’t go to college than if you were born poor and had the grit to graduate from college.

Don’t get me wrong: Kids need to set goals and work hard. But they also need critical thinking skills to challenge the inequalities that undermine their best efforts.

Critical Thinking Strategies

Here’s one way to build critical thinking into the curriculum: Have students ask who benefits? Language arts and social studies provide great opportunities for kids to hear the voices of those often underrepresented in the curriculum– people of color and the working class. Students can examine the impacts of historical and events by analyzing the impacts on different social groups. Who is really benefitting from this law/decision/policy? Who has the power to make the decisions?

Understanding structural inequalities is a prerequisite for grit. When students understand problems, they will develop solutions, set goals, and persevere to make them happen. They will rise to the challenge both socially and academically. In this way, grit can catapult students to make a positive difference for themselves, their families, and communities.

Grit will bring results when students can think critically about the need for it. Let’s ensure our curriculum gives students something worth striving for and the skills to get there.

I love talking with educators about how to transform curriculum. Looking for more ideas? Our white paper is packed with tips and strategies, as well as critical questions to identify opportunities for high-impact change.

You can contact me here: santone at

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