The Privilege of Underprivileged
Alex is an 8 year old boy attending an underfunded school and living in a single parent home. Academics are a challenge for Alex and he receives little support from his caretaker and school administrators. One might say that Alex’s lack of privilege is doing him a disservice but this is simply false. Despite his situation being a challenging one, Alex will ultimately be better prepared for the real world. The grit of underprivileged young people outweighs the advantages of those with privilege.
Grit is a term that is commonly used to describe a person’s character. It can be used to define men, women, children, ect. This begs the question; what is grit? How do people develop it? These are questions that do not have one clear answer. They depend heavily on the population in which you are focused on and the context of the situation. For the purpose of this argument, grit in young people ranging from elementary school to college will be defined. This will help to more clearly illustrate how grit directly correlates to success.
“Without grit, talent may be nothing more than unmet potential,” Caren Baruch-Feldman, PhD and author of The Grit Guide For Teens explains. “Grit is important because it is a driver of achievement and success, independent of and beyond what talent and intelligence contribute. Grit is a character trait that is acquired; not learned. The experiences a young person has in their early years are likely to determine whether or not they develop grit. A student exhibiting this trait will not allow predetermined conditions or circumstances to hinder their performance. For example, working long hours, unfavorable studying environment, low household income, and learning disabilities are all factors that may discourage a student without grit. Grit does not diminish over time. In college, the workplace, and for the years to come, this individual will continue to be a diligent, hard worker. A student with the type of grit we are analyzing will overcome any challenges they may face to achieve success in all aspects of life.
It’s important to mention that grit does not directly correlate to high grades and test scores and vice versa. In fact, many students who make these academic achievements lack grit the most. Commonly, it’s the average students or those who struggle with their studies who must adapt grit as a mechanism. The naturally gifted students often achieve these high grades without little to any effort being applied. Students with learning disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia, ect are more likely to be perserent, as the result of a more challenging educational career. Infact, a study conducted by the Hamilton Institute reports a significant correlation between high grade point average and self determination, in students with learning disabilities. Overcoming adversities like this as a teen will only make the individual that much more prepared for the future. When defining grit in this context, it is often associated with those who fit the underdog role opposed to the gleaming, perfect, straight-a student.
The term grit is most commonly associated with overcoming obstacles and unfortunate circumstances. When referring to students, an individual growing up in a stable household is less likely to develop grit since they face less adversity. Those who experience poverty, broken homes, single parent homes, or abusive homes must expel much more effort just to accomplish that of kids from stable homes. Also, students in these households commonly don’t have access to adequate tutoring, technology, or necessary school supplies. This alone demands the individual to be perseverent. In 2016, many low income schools across the country began installing programs that taught grit to their elementary students. “Here, though, is the fundamental problem with the notion that the importance of grit has to do with bettering the chances of disadvantaged students. Children raised in poverty display ample amounts of grit every day, and they don’t need more of it in school,” Ethan Ris, doctoral candidate in education at Stanford University expresses. Students from these lower income areas face challenges that many others never will. When these elementary students become young adults, the grit they’ve developed will continue to aid them in the workplace and beyond. Meanwhile, the higher income students most likely won’t have the same crucial experience.
In addition to challenges at home, many students from underprivileged communities work during the school year. These students must learn how to balance school and work while maintaining other aspects of their life. A survey of students at the Manchester Metropolitan University demonstrated that a larger population of students are working while in school than ever before. Although these students do believe their grades would be a little higher if they weren’t working, they are being benefited in the long run. “Nevertheless, students highlight the benefits of working, which are not only monetary but include the development of skills, greater understanding of the world of business and an increase in confidence, all of which are advantageous to their studies, both at the present time and in the future,” Susan Curtis & Najah Shani with the Journal of Further and Higher Education report. Not only will these skills help students develop and integrate grit into their lives, they will be better prepared for their future work environment.
As we consider all the possible meanings of a word, it’s evident that context is always important. Grit in athletes vs business professionals will take completely different forms. Likewise, grit instilled in students is very specific. These individuals learn, through their experiences, the magnitude of their actions and decisions. More specifically, the students that overcome challenges while pursuing their education are most likely to develop the kind of grit that will aid them through adulthood.
Straight-a students don’t always get everything right. In high school, it would have sounded idiotic to guess that the boy in the back of the class with mediocre grades, such as Alex, would go on to encounter more success later in life than anyone else. It happens more often than we’re willing to believe. Although they may display excellence in the classroom, above average students do not always have the same success beyond graduation. Book smarts is not commonly thought of as privilege, but in the modern education system, it is just that. It may sound counterintuitive but achieving good grades in high school is not a direct cause of a successful career later in life.
“If you always succeed in school, you’re not setting yourself up for success in life,” Dr. Grant, organizational psychologist, explains that good grades can only get you so far. After the first year out of college there is almost no correlation between grades and job performance. “For example at google, once employees are two or three years out of college, their grades have no bearing on their performance,” Grant explains in his NY times article. Although one’s education may help them prepare for their desired field of work, in the long run, it won’t have too much impact on how much they excel. In his book, Unbeatable Resumes, Tony Beshara interviews some of the most powerful bosses in the country on what will get an individual hired. The findings varied from strong morals to flexibility and willingness to face failure, with very little mention of educational history. The issue is that those who get good grades aren’t necessarily prepared for the workforce, they just know how to memorize information. Also, Traditional schooling does not evaluate creativity, problem solving ability, and many of the other traits that will be utilized in the workplace. Students in the top of the class are also more likely to miss out on social and real world experiences that may be more useful to them.
For many outstanding students who fall behind in the real world, it wasn’t what they did in high school that put them at a disadvantage but what they didn’t do. For the majority of these exceptional students, they never experienced a teacher failing their project or being told they could resubmit their essay for a passing grade. Although this is not entirely their fault, it does put them at a disadvantage in some ways. When they enter the workforce they will eventually have a boss or overseer that will not be pleased with their work. Since they have had little experience with failure, they will not be equipped with the skills needed to overcome the situation. “Parents tend to see their mission as helping their kids succeed. But there’s a growing realization among teachers and other professionals who work with children that kids increasingly need help learning how to fail. Not learning to tolerate failure leaves them vulnerable to anxiety,” Beth Arky with the Child Mind Institute explains. By facing failure at a young age, individuals accept it as a part of life and do not respond as negatively to it later on.
The case is always made that these exceptional students are more likely to receive a higher corporate position or a better job than their C minus counterparts. Although an outstanding high school or college transcript is a wonderful asset to have when applying for a job, it’s important to acknowledge the logistics of this said advantage. Although you may have been “one in a million” in your graduating class, remember how many high schools are in your state as well as your country. There are always going to be other valedictorians and straight-a students applying for the same position. In the United States, roughly 25,000 valedictorians and another 25,000 salutatorians graduate each year, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. This is not taking into consideration the amount of students who graduate in the top ten, achieved straight a’s, and other notable academic accomplishments. Meanwhile, the individual who did not receive remarkable grades may stand out in other ways. A perfect example of this could be displaying good time management skills by working or volunteering in addition to attending school. These qualities, such as, wit, creativity, drive, and empathy, cannot be demonstrated in the classroom.
The biggest reason good students struggle in the real world is that school is very different from work. “In school, in order to get the grade, you learned to provide the authority figure—the teacher—what he or she wanted. In the workplace, that translates into asking ‘good girl’ questions: ‘What does this boss want from me? Which of my boss’s needs aren’t being met? What do I need to do to get an A?” Whitney Johnson, author of Dare, Dream, Do, explains the difference between educational success and corporate success in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “This approach may get you some initial gold stars, but it won’t get you what you really want, which is to be an indispensable player, not just to your boss, but in your industry. To become an all-star, you need to develop a new skill: you need to learn how to challenge and influence authority, rather than simply giving the authority figures what they want.” Most straight-a students have dismissed the idea of thinking outside of the box. Their educational career has taught them to do exactly what they’re supposed to with no room for no ideas or questions. This mindset may allow the individual to keep their job but not be promoted or earn a raise.
The education system in America urges young students to maintain good grades if they wish to be successful. Although this mindset isn’t completely inaccurate, it’s quite flawed. The issue arises when students and officials believe that strong academic performance can single handedly get someone to the top of the corporate food chain. It’s becoming more and more apparent in today’s society that the workforce demands more than strong mathematical skills and good grammar. Strong determination, creativity, passion, and companionship are far more likely to be the cause for a student’s success later in life.
Children with educated parents would be more likely to succeed in school and the workplace, right? This is simply not true. Although education may be emphasized by these parents, the child has to be motivated on their own inorder to see results. As we’ve observed, children in less supportive environments, where education is not a priority, tend to be more self-motivated. In addition, many parents who value education believe sending their child to private school will set them up for success. This actually has the opposite effect since receiving a private education hinders the child’s ability to adapt to the real world.
It’s very hard to succeed in school or work without grit. Some believe that second generation college students have more grit than disadvantaged students whose parents never had the option of attending college. This belief stems from the idea that students who grow up in a household with educated caregivers better understand the value of education. In some cases, this holds true but is surely not a rule of thumb. A study done on students at Curtin University attempted to demonstrate that students who were not the first in their family to go to college displayed more grit. “In qualitative responses, students were most commonly motivated by a desire for personal development, career aspirations, and family. Grit was found to positively correlate to parents’ educational attainment, and to students who were not first in the family to attend university”, Cathay Cupitt with Semantic Scholar explains. It’s important to acknowledge that students stating they are motivated is very different than actually demonstrating this motivation through hard work and perseverance. Surely these students were motivated to attend college, but not for the same reason as the disadvantaged students. In many financially stable areas, attending college is a social must. These second generation students are often attending college solely because that’s what’s expected of them. Considering this, it makes sense that these students’ grit was seen to correlate to their parents’ educational achievements.
On the other hand, the first generation college students from less stable backgrounds are likely going to college with hope of turning around their situation. They’ve already witnessed what poverty or lack of support can do to a family. These students will not let the challenges they face hinder their educational career because they’ve already overcome so many. Meanwhile, the second generation students do not have the same motives. Special awards and scholarships are given to “legacies” or students who attend a college or university after a family member. This makes it more likely that these second generation students will pursue an education, not because they have grit, but because they’re predispositioned to. Essentially, being a second generation college student isn’t a true indication of grit, until proven otherwise. The only thing this status demonstrates is that the individual most likely had a less challenging, more supported upbringing.
Commonly, parents who have graduated college and value education send their children to private schools. They believe this exclusive education will guide them down the right path for entering college. Unfortunately, enrolling students in private school most oftenly has an adverse effect. Many private school students will graduate without obtaining any real world experience or skills that will aid them in college and beyond.
When exploring the effects of a private versus a public education, the findings of the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program cannot be ignored. WISE was designed as an experiential learning experience for female high school students to get exposure to STEM. Initially, the program was only offered to private school students in Virginia. Later, they opened this opportunity up to public school students, as well. Right off the bat, there was a big difference in the experiences that the public and private school students had. For example, the private schools implementing WISE had more specialized staff members available to help. Also, public schools were not able to provide summer research opportunities since the majority of students held part-time jobs. Despite the obvious advantages the private school students had, both groups were equally successful at the end of the course.
How do the results of this study demonstrate that a public education can be more beneficial than a private one? The answer lies in the drastic difference in opportunity. Private school WISE participants were given more aid throughout the corresponding weeks than the public school students. Despite this, the public school students were able to be just as successful within the program. “At the private school, the students are enrolled in a research course and participate in WISE as a cohort with a teacher who provides feedback on the students’ presentations, reviews their journals weekly, visits the students in their research lab and intervenes if necessary to resolve issues between a mentor and student or faculty and student,” the several authors of “Realities of Mentoring High School Students from Inner City Public Schools vs. Private Schools in STEM Research at an R1 University” explain. The Wise program emulates one of the major flaws in private education. Over time, private school students become used to having these privileges, yet fail to use them to their advantage. The public school students had to work harder and more diligently to make this program fit into their lifestyle. It’s very counterintuitive to think that well educated parents and a private education can hurt a child’s chances of success, yet that seems to be the case. It’s not the direct effect of these two factors, rather the second hand effects that are so detrimental. Students growing up in what may be seen as an unfavorable environment experience positive long term effects.
During this crucial period of development, Alex’s hardships will allow him to become perseverent. Needless to say, not every underprivileged child will be a success story, but each one experiences unique circumstances that will give them an undeniable edge. Maybe the grass isn’t always greener after all.
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