I just finished reading my post why Agency > Grit. And then I said-oh yeah, who are you? Mr. So and So, to tell us about Agency! So I thought I'd take a moment to make a quick <- with regard to who I am and why I get to say this silly stuff.
I got a psych degree ('Man', he said drinking his white Russian) so I get a pass on commenting on all things psychological. Then I have masters in social work so that's social and clinical stuff, then I was a play and family therapist for a while so that's more social and clinical stuff.
I wasn't social and clinical enough in my understanding of people to see my impending burnout on the career highway. I left social work to go into IT. As it turns out in the late 90's one of the folks making a lot of money was the for-profit education industry. They needed IT so I hitched my wagon to that train until July 2015. Along the way I learned a lot about motivation, education, and IT and Fake Work. Fake Work is just like you'd think it would be given what you already know about Fake News.
I had a boss that would hand out Brent Peterson's Fake Work so I learned at least a little bit about it. One of the things that the idea of Fake Work taught me was that lots of things can look like work-Steven Pressfield has a giant of a book called the war of art and in it he tells us about real work. I'd highly recommend it to anyone.
I am interested in measuring with IT the kinds of things that in the past were measured by self-report. 'How are you feeling today'? and 'Do you know the impact of the Pythagorean theorem'? These are questions that computers can assess in individuals today and I am working on software solutions to do just that.
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?