David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Leave My Grits Alone

December 22, 2017

This week The Chronicle of Higher Education published an advice column focusing on the role of college faculty in teaching character over grit.

For me, that should not even have to be said, not simply because I would agree in general with David Gooblar's view, but because I have always had a negative view of grit.

For someone growing up in West Virginia in the 1960's and 1970's, grit was a pejorative term for an uncouth person (a distinction among hillbillies, I guess, if one were to claim all West Virginians were hillbillies).  "Grit" was used to describe the kid who wore farmer's overalls to school, who listened to Lynyrd Skynynd, who chewed tobacco.  I always assumed that it was a universal badge of contempt.  As with many of my childish views, I have abandoned such stereotypes as I have come to embrace the diversity of all.

However, the frequency over the last few years in education to talk about "grit" as something positive, as the determining characteristic between successful students (those with grit) and unsuccessful students (the gritless), has made me wonder if my association from my childhood was universal at all. Or, were we simply going to have to accept two versions of the word with dramatically different definitions (sort of like "awful," or "screw," or, let's face it, now, "trump". Wow, didn't expect all three of those words to align so perfectly.)?

It was then that I confirmed that "grit," the slang as I had known it, was mostly used to refer to a southerner, which makes sense, I guess, for West Virginians to freely adopt it, given that we are prone to promote our wisdom in succeeding from Virginia before the Civil War.

That doesn't mean I won't twitch a little when I see throughout Gooblar's article references to the new "grit" that elevates it way past where I want my grits to go.  Gooblar characterizes, quotes, or links to all of the following references to this new "grit," and that 15-year old me can't help but protest:

  • Benefits of "grit."  (Up and until 10 grade, the only benefit of the pejorative grit is for immature kids to find easy targets for their ugly need to socially stratify.)
  • Measures of "grit."  (Number of Molly Hatchet albums owned?  Diameter of tobacco chew balls in mouth? Uses of "y'all"?)
  • Grit theory.  (Somehow connected with the theory of relatives-vity?)
  • Grit scale.  (I guess this is where the measures of grit come in to help set up a grit hierarchy.)
  • Grit promoters.  (Nascar?)
  • Grit phenomenon.  (I can't even go there.)

To wax poetic:

Grit, As You and I See It

These kids in my class,

They collapse as if crushed,

Seemingly frail, snowflakes,

Regardless of their leaning,

As they fall in the rush

Of the semester's long push.

Can you get me more grit?


You say you want grit?

Are you finally losing it?

I could arrange for some spit,

Some polish in the hair,

Some overall they can wear,

Some banjo in the air.

Do you really want more grit?


You don't understand

How they underperform,

Fail to attend, be informed,

Lose sight of their goals.

As they wander our halls,

Like hopeless ghouls.

Please, god, deliver more grit.


Is it really grit you desire?

Are you playing to my love of satire?

Or do I have to look for a new hire?

I'll go back to the old hollers,

Invest more recruitment dollars,

If these are the next scholars?

I never thought you'd be asking for grits.


You've been out of the classroom too long,

Clueless and clinging to views

Of people we haven't seen for years.

We yearn for a new brand of student

Who wouldn't balk at an assignment

That requires time and commitment.

We just need them to come with grit.


All right, I give, grits it will be.

Maybe you see something I can't see.

A healthy dose of education is the key.

If in the end, these students retain,

Through semesters they remain,

My skepticism I will refrain.

My god, I will give you your grits.