In terms of working to understand how to encourage students to persist through difficulty in school and in life Agency is a better concept than Grit. Agency focuses on an individual’s performance in a responsive, or not, environment. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that an individual is ‘in’ some sort of environment when they are being evaluated and that that environment should also be a part of any individual evaluation?
Agency is defined in a nutshell as an individual’s ability to act in any given environment. What makes Agency a beneficial concept to consider in character education in particular is the accompanying concept of reflexivity. Low reflexivity in a given situation yields an individual who is largely shaped by that institution while a high level of reflexivity suggests that the individual has more autonomy to shape themselves.
The concept of Grit focuses almost exclusively on the student (lower reflexivity). The teacher and the environment get a pass. So, the message ‘Persist’. Persist in the face of every obstacle. Is laudable. It’s excellent. But if it’s the only message i.e., if it doesn’t also include the message that there are (perhaps intractable) structures in your environment that will have a daily impact on your success then the message is blunted. The issue is further complicated when consideration is given to the fact that the individual and hundreds like her have knowingly or unknowingly built the structures that will impact their level of achievement.
Winston Churchill might have said something like: “We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us”.
Schools should be asking themselves: Do the tools we have now enable us to measure non-cognitive, character education? That is, are students ‘getting it’ and is the institution doing all it can do to assess whether or not students are given the kind of support we would choose for them? What tools do we have that currently measure Agency and reflexivity in our educational institutions?