In her book “Grit” just published last June, Dr. Angela Duckworth starts by sharing the challenges of being admitted and staying at the West Point Academy, a U.S. military academy. Besides demonstrating outstanding academic and physical standards, applicants must be nominated by a senator or the country’s VP. Over 20,000 high school students apply every year; only 1,200 are admitted and 6.5% dropout after six months.
So why do students with similar academic and physical standards would continue or give up at West Point? Surely the demands are intimidating: academic and physical work from 5am to 10pm every day with no free weekends and no family and friends contact. The system is set to find students’ weaknesses. Psychologists have found that the never-give-up and I-hate-losing attitudes are the reasons students stay. Talent by itself is not a guarantee of success.
These attitudes are defined as “grit” by psychologist Angela Duckworth. She defines grit as the ability of:
Grit means “mental toughness and courage” by the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition. It is the intrinsic motivation that keeps athletes training, entrepreneurs working, or scientists researching. It is what we, in our limited knowledge, believe that one is born with it. Thus, our school system offers the “Gifted Program” for talented students, and leave behind all other ones that still have talents, but need to develop grit to foster their potential. In her book, Dr. Duckworth makes the case that Grit can be developed.
We all want our students to succeed in life. We all must understand that the only ones that can make them succeed in life are the students themselves. Our goal as an education system should be (1) to unleash students’ potential – the compass that will guide them to the endless road towards what they want in life; and (2) to develop grit – the intrinsic motivation that will make them persevere in this road.
I was in Argentina a couple of months ago and took a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel. I always ask taxi drivers about the situation in their country because they seem to know everything! Without knowing that I work in it, he identified education as being the most important issue to solve in his country “to have productive and respectful citizens,” he noted. “If I could fix the education system,” he continued, “I’d make sure students learn to persevere. I am 56 years old and a taxi driver. I started so many projects and never finished them… I could be in a much better place today if my teachers would have helped me work on my potential and if I had learned to persevere,” he concluded.
So, how do we make this happen?
Fontan Relational Education, or FRE, is a personalized autonomous learning system that fosters students’ potential. By potential we understand as the “the group of abilities that make someone unique and bring them value” (Julio Fontan). It is personalized because each student is unique. It is autonomous because the only one that will know how far one can go and how hard one can push is oneself.
Dr. Daniel Chambliss identified in his research how to develop one’s potential and reach excellence: “something done consistently and correctly will produce excellence.” It is “no more than a mundane act.” “The most dazzling human achievements are an aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in essence, ordinary.”
The learning practices in the FRE system are ordinary; nevertheless, they guide students into extraordinary results because it develops their learning autonomy. Most of all, students are happier because they find meaning to their lives. These practices are:
This is the very first step for learning autonomy. Specific daily planning develops goal setting abilities, organization, work effectiveness, decision making through prioritizing, responsibility, and accountability. As students grow in autonomy, they start planning their week, month, year, and eventually their lives. Planning and having goals develop intrinsic motivation as students discover how hard they can push themselves and how far they can go. We work with students in the public education system that are aiming at attending universities all over the world, regardless of their social and economic background. They plan, set a goal, and work on the strategy to reach that goal, all with the support of their educators. They find the way to bring their dreams into reality. Planning is the first powerful tool to reach their dreams.
2. Learning process
It is a simple four-stage step-by-step to learn anything: previous knowledge, research, skill development, and relating to my life. Students find meaning to what they learn because it has a real-world application to their lives. They learn to identify the unique contributions of others and seek help whenever they need it: collaboration is natural, not forced. Each student has a unique approach to their own learning process and once they have this practice, learning becomes relevant and enjoyable. No one is born not liking math! In our experience, all educators need to do is to believe in students and that will propel them forward. They feel compelled to demonstrate they can do it.
3. Reaching excellence in everything
We have high expectations of students to reach excellence in everything they do. The stronger the intrinsic motivation is, the higher the standards students will set to themselves. This is a practice that will become natural with time and that will make students extraordinary professionals and human beings throughout their lives. The main measurement of success is the effort that students apply to reach each milestone, regardless of the time students take, but ensuring the highest excellence of work.
Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher concluded that “those who struggle early may learn better.” Malcolm Gladwell concluded in his book Outliers that anyone can be an expert on anything by practicing it for 10,000 hours. Therefore, if we want to have outstanding and successful human beings once they reach adulthood, we must have them practice from an early age to plan, to develop their intrinsic motivation, to reach excellence in everything. We must develop Grit throughout their 13,200 hours in the school system.