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The Limitations of Teaching ‘Grit’ in the Classroom

The first time I heard a preschooler explaining a classmate’s disruptive behavior, I was surprised at how adult her 4-year-old voice sounded.

Her classmate “doesn’t know how to sit still and listen,” she said to me, while I sat at the snack table with them. He couldn’t learn because he couldn’t follow directions, she explained, as if she had recently completed a behavioral assessment on him.

Months before either of these children would start kindergarten, they had formed judgments about who was smart and capable of learning and who was not. They had absorbed ideas on why some students wrote their names neatly and others broke crayons.

This precocious little girl talked about her classmate matter-of-factly and without any malice in a classroom where the teachers were well-trained and supportive of a diverse student body that was racially and economically mixed.

What the little girl didn’t know about her classmate was that his family life was chaotic, without consistent routines or caregivers. He had suffered some traumas at home, which showed in his behavior at school.

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