It’s true. Grit important to childhood education success

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Grit. It’s a passionate dedication to achieving a goal.


It’s a passionate dedication to achieving a goal.

Kids with grit are curious and confident. They control their emotions. They stay focused. Kids with grit are more likely to grow into great adults, no matter how they started out.

“The bet is that children who master these dispositions will do better in life and better in school,” said Sam Meisels, Ed.D., the first leader of the new Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska – an institute that hopes to become a national leader in early childhood education.

Meisels spoke to University of Nebraska alumni and supporters recently in Scottsdale, Ariz., about the three areas that concern him the most that keep many kids in this country from reaching their potential.

“Why is it that young children don’t thrive?” he said. “The first is inequality, the second is discontinuity, and the third is isolation.”

Then he broke them down:

• Inequality.

The American ideal, he says, is that anyone who works hard and has talent can make it. But too many kids are born to parents of limited means. They go to poor-quality schools. These kids are not likely to live up to their potential.

The achievement gap has a great deal to do with family income, Meisels said. And that gap is growing. Between 1978 and 2008, he said, the average gap of math and reading scores of children from high and low income families grew by a third.

“There’s more poverty now. We’re starting to see the impact of that.”

• Discontinuity.

Many young children are educated in a disconnected way. The ones lucky enough to go to an excellent preschool program then often go into those poor-quality elementary schools.

These kids “fade out,” Meisels said. Their IQ scores stop rising. Their academic achievement a few years later seems to mirror their peers who didn’t get the early intervention.

So were the early childhood programs a waste of time and money?


Meisels said that researchers who studied these kids for decades have found that, years later, the ones who experienced early childhood programs were more likely to graduate. They went on to earn much more as adults than their peers who didn’t. They were less dependent on welfare. Less likely to get arrested. More likely to get married and own their own home.

“There seems to be what we now call ‘sleeper effects’ – you know, like sleeper agents if you watch ‘Homeland,'” he said.

“What it seems more to be about, and what I think is incredibly important and tied to why early childhood matters, is that they seem to be about character, they seem to be about other types of factors that are called non-cognitive. … It says it’s not so much just what you know, but also who you are, what kind of a person you actually become.”

Kids who experienced quality early childhood programs developed more character.

More grit.

• Isolation.

“We’re all here together, feeling connected in some way or another,” Meisels told the crowd. “Some of us feel very, very strongly about the University of Nebraska. We don’t feel that kind of isolation when we’re here in a place like this.”

Social interaction influences learning. Relationships are key. Children spend less than 15 percent of their time in school. The rest of the time, he said, they’re with people in their community and their home.

Children who are homeless or in ill health or living in terrible conditions are more likely to miss school and less likely to have home support, he said.

“We are not devoting enough energy to thinking about community and home,” Meisels said.

“Too often we hear that it’s the teachers who are at fault, that bad teachers are the reason children are not succeeding in school.”

Kids can overcome behavioral and academic problems in environments where teachers, parents and communities are warm, positive and sensitive.

“We cannot just fix one thing in order to make a difference in our children’s lives,” he said.

“What we need to do is look at this in a larger context. It’s easy to blame teachers. It’s very easy to blame parents as well.

“But we have to think of this in a broad way.”

Dr. Meisels is considered to be the nation’s top leader in early childhood education. The Buffett Institute recruited him to Nebraska after a nationwide search. But even though it has a leader of Meisels’ caliber, the institute won’t reach its full potential without private support. If you would like to help the institute help our children, please consider giving online or contact the foundation’s Tracy Edgerton at 402-458-1160.

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