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Jan Resseger, a social justice activist in Ohio, writes on her blog about the hidden agenda behind the debate about “grit.”
She believes it is a way of blaming the poor for their poverty (obviously, they are poor because they lack grit) and at the same time, doing nothing to reduce poverty or to address the structural causes of poverty and inequality. In reality, it is a profoundly reactionary way of shifting responsibility from government to those who are at the bottom of the ladder.
Our preoccupation in American education with character formation defined as “grit” is integral to our culture’s rock-solid belief in the myth of the American Dream. It doesn’t matter that economists today are documenting rigidifying inequality with the rise of incomes at the top, wage stagnation for families in the middle, and deepening poverty and segregation among those at the very bottom. It doesn’t matter that Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz explains: “There’s no use in pretending. In spite of the enduring belief that Americans enjoy greater social mobility than their European counterparts, America is no longer the land of opportunity.” (The Price of Inequality, p. 265) And it doesn’t matter that last year Robert Putnam published a whole book about the increasing rigidity of social stratification in America: “Graphically, the ups and downs of inequality in America during the twentieth century trace a gigantic U, beginning and ending in two Gilded Ages, but with a long period of relative equality around mid-century… In the early 1970s, however, that decades-long equalizing trend began to reverse, slowly at first but then with accelerating harshness… (I)n the 1980s the top began to pull away from everyone else, and in the first decades of the twenty-first century the very top began to pull away even from the top. Even within each major racial/ethnic group, income inequality rose at the same substantial rate between 1967 and 2011, as richer whites, blacks and Latinos pulled away ….” (Our Kids, pp. 34-35)