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The Power of Perseverance

By Amelia Harper

While education necessarily involves the acquisition of knowledge, most homeschool parents would agree that the development of character is at least as important. In recent days, public school educators are finding this to be true as well. The quality of perseverance or “grit,” in particular, has been widely discussed, and a recent study indicates that this quality may impact student success more than even intelligence.

In the field of education, measures of “success” are often used to determine effectiveness of the educational process. While “success” is defined by different people in diverse ways, in education this generally means that students are able to effectively perform in college or a career and are able to become financially independent. Homeschool parents may define success in different ways as well, but most see financial independence as a valuable goal.

In a recent study, educators attempted to measure the value of perseverance on a larger, international scale. The study, "Test Scores, noncognitive skills and economic growth," which was published in December 2017 in the Economics of Education Review, compared the Program for International Student Assessment test scores of students from 60 countries and also looked at the consistency of student performance from the beginning of the test to the end of the test. The study came to a surprising conclusion: A surprising link: when kids work harder on tests, their countries’ economies grow more. Student ability to persevere to the end of the test was as important as student performance on the test in predicting whether a country was on an upward economic climb. In other words, countries whose students show greater perseverance are more likely to grow economically.

The importance of perseverance has long been recognized by leaders. However, this issue is actually debated in educational circles. Some see teaching perseverance or “grit” as the answer to America’s educational woes – True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It while others feel that this idea negates the notion that society should be geared toward removing obstacles – The problem with teaching ‘grit’ to poor kids?—such as poverty and racial injustice—from a child’s life. However, these ideas are not mutually exclusive. We should do what we can to alleviate suffering. But as suffering is inevitable in every life, the teaching of perseverance can only benefit those who must live.

The idea of “grit,” which has become a by-word in education of late, is said to have been coined by social psychologist Angela Duckworth. She defines “grit” as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” However, the word grit has long been defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “courage and resolve; strength of character” which is a closely related concept.

However, though the application of “grit” education sometimes falls short in school settings, and the research behind Duckworth’s work may be weak, the basic idea rings true. As Duckworth said, “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.”

The application of this idea to homeschooling is natural. Students need to be challenged and need to learn to stay the course despite the obstacles that appear. As homeschool parents, we are sometimes tempted to remove all the obstacles by constantly extending deadlines, excusing laziness, and accepting work that we know is below the true ability of our child. Finding the balance between reasonable expectations and unreasonable demands can sometimes be tricky. But we need to be aware that deadlines andobstacles have value in education because they prepare a child for life. Teaching them to have perseverance is an educational goal in its own right.

Duckworth’s advice is equally applicable to homeschool parents. We must “maintain effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” Otherwise, we will give up altogether. Homeschooling is not always easy and we all know parents who gave up too quickly when the obstacles appeared. Yes, there are times when homeschooling no longer works for some families. But for the most part, perseverance is the key ingredient for success in homeschooling, as it is in life.

Perseverance can be taught by word, but it is more effectively taught by example. This means our children need to see us demonstrate this in our daily lives. Perseverance can also be taught through stories ranging from tales of the “The Little Engine That Could” and the “Tortoise and the Hare” to the biographies of great leaders, most of whom overcame obstacles and demonstrated perseverance along the way.

The lesson of perseverance, if not the word, is also clearly taught in Scripture. Galatians 6:9 reminds us, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Romans 5:3-4 tells us that testing and tribulations have their place in our lives, “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” And the Apostle Paul provides a reason for perseverance in Philippians 3:13-14, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Former president Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On!’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Amelia Harper is the author of Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, a complete on-year literature curriculum published by HomeScholarBooks for students in grades 7-12. A homeschooling mother of five grown children, she is also an education reporter for a daily newspaper in North Carolina and writes for Education Diver, a website covering education policy and trends across the nation.

Copyright 2017 The Old Schoolhouse® used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine.