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“When Grit Isn’t Enough” by Linda Nathan

A new book by Linda Nathan is just out and it tackles five myths we tell many of our students in K-12 schools. The book’s title refers to one of these myths, that if you, the students, can just apply more grit, you will succeed in high school and go to college. Of course the trouble with this is that many of our students find themselves at-risk for succeeding no matter how much grit they apply to the situation. No one is underestimating the power of grit, but the structural blockade that many students face, such as the very way that standardized testing does not make sense to them, the grinding poverty of urban environments, the nuance of languages they are not brought up with, the lack of support for academic achievement and the lack of safety in their schools and neighborhoods, stand as unyielding roadblocks to their success. They are not responsible for applying more grit to these—we are responsible and we are accountable for the equity of learning opportunities we offer and the access we build in order to clear those impediments away—and guide our students down more supportive pathways to their success in college and most importantly, career readiness for the work they will do.

Here is my review on Amazon of this book:

5.0 out of 5 stars College and Career Readiness!

By Robert A. Southworth on October 20, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Two nights ago, in Boston, I sat in an Emerson College audience watching Linda Nathan speak so passionately about her work supporting high school students in achieving their educational goals. She was angry that so many myths, such as if you only use your grit, were used to motivate them. Because grit alone will not do it and we need to look for much more tangible ways to help students connect their work in school with their work in life. She explains this need very well on page 120 in her new book, When Grit Isn’t Enough, “Schools need opportunities and incentives to introduce more comprehensive pathways to connect and combine the world of work with academics. Evaluating schools through the one-dimensional lens of state test scores has greatly limited creative ways of engaging students, leaving no room in the curriculum for comprehensive career exploration. Schools are either vocational or comprehensive high schools.” When I first met Linda at the Fenway Middle High School I was so honored to be working in her school. We were a group of experienced teachers from Harvard but we had much to learn from her and Larry Myatt and the wonderful students. I helped her design the first “Project Week” in January sponsored by John Hancock Insurance. What an eye-opener this was for me, to combine my ideas for project-based sustained learning with this population of at-risk students! I have since that time worked on school reform strategies that promote equity and access for all students, most recently, in conducting research on the effect of arts integration on student achievement in the ninth poorest city in the country, Rochester, NY. The arts help build lots more comprehensive pathways for student success and Linda’s work in founding arts-based high schools grounds this book and makes it so relevant for all readers today. I would recommend this to anyone in education to learn more about how Linda’s thinking develops multiple ways to support all students in college and career readiness.

Other Amazon Reviews

“It’s a marvelous book, and badly needed at this time. Drawing on the powerful stories of children at the Boston Arts Academy, Linda Nathan bravely confronts the widely circulated myth that children who grow up in poverty can overcome inequity and every other daunting obstacle they face if they just ‘believe,’ ‘persevere,’ ‘work like hell,’ and show sufficient ‘grit.’ Many of these students do prevail, but Nathan makes it clear that ‘grit’ is not enough and that our adherence to this appeasing myth is letting a divided and bitterly unequal social order off the hook.”
—Jonathan Kozol, author of Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools

“Supporting students throughout college is as important as supporting them in high school—especially as students confront challenges connected to race and class. Linda Nathan deftly describes the kind of team effort that is required of educators in order to ensure student success.”
—Deborah Bial, president and founder of the Posse Foundation

“Storytelling can serve as a powerful tool for truth telling. Linda Nathan’s When Grit Isn’t Enough is truth telling at its best! Drawn on over thirty years of teaching and leading in public education settings, Linda’s stories show us, in no uncertain terms, how five long-held assumptions about American education are hurting thousands of talented urban students. Through stories, Linda exposes us to painful truths and provides us with practical, implementable, and replicable solutions that can reverse these long-standing false assumptions. Most of all, she leaves us with hope, inspiration, and direction.”
—Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president emeritus, Wheelock College, Boston

“In When Grit Isn’t Enough, veteran educator Linda Nathan gives the lie to five popular but unproven beliefs about education that do little to improve schooling but instead blame the victims of poor and unequal schooling. This is a courageous book, one that challenges all of us, educators and non-educators alike, to do better for our most vulnerable students.”
—Sonia Nieto, professor emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture, College of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“Insightful, revealing, and at times heart-wrenching, this book is an invaluable resource for those who hope to use education to transform the lives of our most vulnerable youth.”
—Pedro A. Noguera, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Education, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

When Grit Isn’t Enough does a brilliant job of dismembering the prevailing fallacies about what makes for student success in higher education. Seamlessly weaving together stories and analysis, veteran educator Linda Nathan shows how, for poor, minority, and first-gen students, money (more precisely, the lack of money) and race do matter, and how it’s fatuous to tell students on the cusp that, to make it, all they have to do is buckle down. When Grit Isn’t Enough is both a powerful indictment of higher education and a blueprint for reform. If you read one book on education this season, make it this one.”
—David L. Kirp, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley, and contributing writer, New York Times

“In When Grit Isn’t Enough, Linda Nathan challenges deeply held beliefs like ‘race and money don’t matter,’ and ‘if you just believe in yourself, then your college dreams will come true.’ Through personal stories of alums of Nathan’s school, along with extensive research, she argues that these assumptions can do harm. In this very readable book, she asks educators to confront the ethics of promoting these assumptions when other options, like high-quality career and technical education, can launch a low-income young person into a productive and enriched adulthood. A brave, honest, and optimistic book.”
—Nancy Hoffman, cofounder, Pathways to Prosperity Network, and senior advisor, Jobs for the Future

“In an age where we need courage far more than courtesy, Linda Nathan uses this book to do some much needed truth-telling about schooling today. The American Dream that hard work will pay off is now a fallacy, and she shows us how and why.”
—Sara Goldrick-Rab, Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University and author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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