BOOK: When Grit Isn’t Enough

Grit. It’s a word that has been discussed in education circles for several decades, most recently as a suggested solution for the education gap in the United States. But what if “grit” isn’t enough? Linda Nathan is the first Executive Director of the Center for Artistry and Scholarship in Boston, where she oversees key programs and works with the leadership of Conservatory Lab Charter School to support its development as a national model.

Her new book, When Grit Isn’t Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise, challenges five popular but unproven beliefs about education that do little to improve schooling but instead blame the victims of poor and unequal schooling. This book examines major myths informing American education and explores how educators can better serve students, increase college retention rates, and develop alternatives to college that don’t disadvantage students on the basis of race or income.

Each year, as the founding headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy, an urban high school that boasts a 94 percent college acceptance rate, Linda Nathan made a promise to the incoming freshmen: “All of you will graduate from high school and go on to college or a career.” After fourteen years at the helm, Nathan stepped down and took stock of her alumni: of those who went to college, a third dropped out. Feeling like she failed to fulfill her promise, Nathan reflected on ideas she and others have perpetuated about education: that college is for all, that hard work and determination are enough to get you through, that America is a land of equality.

In When Grit Isn’t Enough, Nathan investigates five assumptions that inform our ideas about education today, revealing how these beliefs mask systemic inequity. Seeing a rift between these false promises and the lived experiences of her students, she argues that it is time for educators to face these uncomfortable issues head-on and explores how educators can better serve all students, increase college retention rates, and develop alternatives to college that don’t disadvantage students on the basis of race or income. Drawing on the voices of BAA alumni whose stories provide a window through which to view urban education today, When Grit Isn’t Enough helps imagine greater purposes for schooling.

Date Published: 1 December 2017

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