Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 512(299) Grit

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

I've entitled this podcast, "Grit".

Grit has always been one of my favorite words. It sounds like just what it means - short and to the point.  It means fortitude and determination. Nothing fancy here.We are probably all familiar with the movie "True Grit". Of course there were two. I viewed both within the last couple of months and found them both compelling. The good guys and the bad guys fight it out and through true grit the good guys win. No surprises there. But the word has appeared lately relating to child rearing and  educational philosophy. There is no doubt in my mind that grit is needed in all phases of life including retirement.

After raising two kids of our own and then teaching school for over twenty years I had my own experiences and thoughts concerning the word grit. It was one of the main traits  that I tried to teach - to my own kids and to my students.

I remember when behavior objectives became all of the educational rage in America. The Phd.s came out of their ivory towers proclaiming that they could measure what we were teaching students. "You just tell us what your teaching and we will measure your success rate," they said. We were to then construct goals and objectives concerning our efforts. Math teachers were to teach math. Social studies teachers were to teach social studies, english teachers were to teach English.

My department chairman was brought to tears when I refused to participate and started a vocal opposition to the project. I still don't know why I wasn't fired. The drive for behavioral objectives struggled on for a couple of years and then disappeared. I retired soon after and am not aware of what eventually happened. But I do know that testing is all the rage nowadays. And I still think it is absurd.

It always seemed to me that teachers were in the business of teaching students; people, real flesh and blood beings that had much to learn on top of reading, writing and 'rithmetic. We were in the business of teaching courtesy, co-operation, competition, politeness, toleration and compassion. We were involved in character building and instilling a sense of confidence in the individual. We wanted to strengthen their sense of self. We tried to give students opportunities to develop as caring and competent human beings. They were exposed to failure. They did not always finish in first place. But they learned to get up and brush themselves off and fight another day. We tried to develop grit.     

Of course it is important to learn math, science, a language and history. They give us tools to use throughout life and develop a cultural heritage that helps us in our understanding of the world and critical thinking. But these other attributes - these are the ones that have always interested me.

Of course parents try to teach their children the same thing. It is not easy. It requires a constant effort to instill, or assist in the development of these all important character or human traits.

One thing I like about the new educational philosophy is the articulation of what teaching is all about. If we can finally articulate what we are really trying to do we may become much better at it. And perhaps the public will not require the effort and time that goes into measuring things that have little value. I use to say, "I could either test or teach but I couldn't do both". There were many days when a scheduled test would be abandoned if a prime teaching moment popped up.

A great story illustrating this message. It was discovered by an economist who tried to find out why or how a person could take a GED test after thirty-two hours of study and do as well as high school graduates on content tests. High school graduates had spent over 4000 hours in high school and yet the tests results were very similar. The economist wondered about the value. Why spend 4000 hours when 32 hours seemed to suffice?

He then looked at how the two groups performed in real life after high school. They were vastly different. The high school graduates generally did much better in all aspects of life: family, jobs, health, happiness, etc. Why was that? He wondered if what students learned in high school wasn't something different that what we try to measure or assume.

He found that the attributes of character, self-confidence and grit were noticeable absent in the GED students compared to the high school graduates. These characteristics are necessary throughout life. And they are abilities that can be taught, reinforced, relearned and expressed.

These characteristics that really make a difference in life can be taught on the football field or in the art room, the music room and the home economics room. We have all known math whizzes and English majors that had trouble with life. Of course the more meaningful aspects of life can be taught in math, science or english class but they do not have more of chance of instilling these values than any other class.

I like to look back at what the economist discovered and re-evaluate what really makes a difference in life. We retired people need to keep these things in mind as we go about our daily life.

I recently heard of a city bus driver in Winnipeg who pulled his bus over for an unexpected stop. HIs passengers saw him walk over to the sidewalk where a barefoot homeless man lay and give him the shoes off of his feet. After the story broke and driver was interviewed by the press he said, "I just thought that guy could use them more than me". Compassion? Grit? Where did he learn that?

This is Retirement Talk.

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