Black male collegians need grit, grades

Black men’s college success on white campuses depends on “grit” as well as academic preparation, according to a study by Ohio State Professor Terrell L. Strayhorn.

Strayhorn tracked 140 mostly first-generation college students at a large public university. He found that those who scored higher on an eight-item measure of grit earned higher course grades after taking into account prior achievement, age, transfer status and school engagement, among other factors.

. . . “The ability to persevere in the face of obstacles is a key to college success for black men. You can’t change where a student grows up, or the quality of the high school he attended. But grit is something that can be taught and instilled in young men and it will have a real effect on their success.”

Grit is usually defined as “a mix of resilience, perseverance, self-control, focus, and positive mindset,” notes Ed Week. People disagree on whether grit is a character trait, or a skill that can be taught.

Strayhorn envisions pre-semester “boot camps” with “learning activities and experiences that (a) nurture students’ capacity to persevere despite setbacks or failure, (b) clarify their personal and professional goals, and (c) provide them strategies for overcoming obstacles to achieving such goals.”

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  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    “The ability to persevere in the face of obstacles is a key to college success for black men.”

    He could have left out those last three words.

    He could also have left out the adjective “college.”

    • Mark Roulo says:

      He could have and the statements would have been true. But … he was trying to make a statement about the study in question … which only considered black men in college ๐Ÿ™‚


      In theory, he would have had a control group (white men, college students as a whole, whatever…) and then could have made a statement about whether the ability to persevere in the face of obstacles was important for everyone, or just for black men, or whatever. It *appears* that there was no such control group ๐Ÿ™

  2. Foobarista says:

    Grit is built by experiencing failure, recovering from it, and knowing that failure can be dealt with. Unfortunately, we’ve structured far too much of academic life and young people’s lives in general to avoid failure or not perceive it as failure (ie, everyone gets a trophy!)

    I’d guess all kids would test similarly.

  3. lightly seasoned says:

    One of our ongoing struggles in getting black males into advanced and AP classes is that many individuals enroll, hit difficult work, and drop. Now, white kids do this, too, but not the same percentage. In my anecdotal sample, the kids have all come through the district together, so have a pretty similar educational experience. Black kids we manage to keep do end up doing fine. So, while all kids do need “grit” to hack college, it seems to be a particular problem for young black men. (Black girls have no lack of grit.)

    • lightly seasoned says:

      Oh, interestingly, several of the young men I’m thinking about had a (unweighted) 4.0 GPA and found the idea of a B extremely threatening. They were adamant about keeping the A’s in mid-range courses over the risk of a B in AP. I teach lots of kids who view a B as not good enough, but they’re not afraid of it in quite the same way (and got into highly selective schools in spite of a B or two).

      • Check out what your school guidance counselors are telling kids. I’ve run into several kids who were told that, for college admissions, it’s better to have an A in a low level course than a B in AP. Counselors often have no idea what they’re talking about. Kids from families with a College-oriented outlook get advice from other places. Kids with no college educated relatives tend to trust the counselors and believe whatever wrong info they’re spreading.

        • As my username suggests I am a high school counselor. I, of course, disagree with your statement, “Counselors often have no idea what they’re talking about.” Counselors wear different hats at a school site, but ultimately we must be advocates for our students. That means we must know the most current information about college and career preparation, academic interventions, personal/social issues that are barriers to learning for example. School counselors are trusted by students to offer the best advice and one piece of advice we know is to challenge yourself with as difficult of classes as you can pass- and by pass we mean a C or better. Here is the kicker though- some colleges and college systems offer admission based solely on GPA and test scores. That goes against what is educationally sound and school counselors are on the front lines trying to change those admission standards. It sounds like you have not had the opportunity to see the real work school counselors do in addition to the multitude of other duties we are responsible for.

          • I’d recommend that if your child is looking at a particular college or set of colleges, you contact the admissions office directly to ask about requirements. For instance, when I was in HS, my counselor told me that “Latin did not count as a foreign language, only Spanish, French, or German counted.” Not true, it turns out. I don’t think counselors are deliberately misleading students, but many are too busy with IEPs, interventions, suicide watches and organizing anti-bullying campaigns to keep abreast of the admissions process.Especially for students who ‘will be fine wherever they go.”

          • lightly seasoned says:

            It’s the norm in our area for there to be a counselor who specializes in the college admission process. Ours gets downright wined and dined by universities and colleges :).

        • lightly seasoned says:

          I know for an absolute fact that our counselors tell the kids just the opposite.

  4. I don’t think that most k-12 public schools require anywhere near the degree of behavior or effort that used to be the norm. Learning is supposed to be both easy and fun, whereas it used to be considered the child equivalent of the parents’ job(s). The former doesn’t develop focus and persistence, particularly when combined with easy grading. As and Bs are now given for products that would have been well below C level, in the old days. A close relative took early retirement because of the push for easy assignments and easy grading. That said, there does seem to be a particular problem with education in the black community. John McWhorter described a sort of shrug/eyeroll response to a challenging (college) assignment that was unique to American blacks not born to immigrant families and which was consistently followed by unsatisfactory performance on the assignment. Mentioning it to other faculty, they had observed the same phenomenon; those students simply would not put in the effort to complete challenging work well. There is also the fact that affirmative action allows URMs’ acceptance into colleges with significantly lower academics than their classmates; my older sons’ friends (HS grads early-mid 90s) were very open about the fact that they didn’t have to take the AP load expected from white/Asian kids at their schools. Two of their black (male) friends were sent to private schools because their parents felt that the teachers were treating them too easily.