The Power of Passion and Perseverance
By: Angela Duckworth
Scribner. 352 pp. $16.80
nolead ends Imagine that: a Philadelphia psychology professor setting the education world on fire with a one-syllable noun that just happens to define the city she currently calls home.
Angela Duckworth deserves all credit for her recent rise to Gladwellian heights - but we do hope the punks who still view Philadelphians only as Santa-pelting-snowball-throwers can order this book for next-day delivery.
Duckworth's buzzy title - Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance - takes aim at the notion of so-called naturals who seem to walk on wooder. Duckworth's point: A person's level of passion and perseverance, his grit, is a better barometer for future success than what can be measured by IQ and other standardized tests.
Furthermore, and with feeling: Grit can be learned, and talent isn't God-sent.
Our society's tendency toward hero worship, she proclaims, leads to more feelings of inadequacy for those whose exceptional qualities require more nurturing to fully blossom.
Her theory: "Talent × effort = skill," and in turn, "Skill × effort = achievement." Effort, you'll notice, counts twice.
Duckworth scoffs at those who gaze at Olympic swimmers midstroke and see them as "unworldly," "gifted," or, worse, "talented," seeing instead the results of intense diet, exercise, and deliberate effort.
She finds several of her paragons right here in Philadelphia: Chef Marc Vetri, Jane Golden of the Mural Arts Program, actor Will Smith, and writer/inventor/superlative thinker Ben Franklin. A city that has long felt inferior to the global metropolis to the north, and the nation's political capitol to the south, is seeing a confidence boost: millennials renting, restaurants opening, tech start-ups growing. It's finally cool to be gritty.
The book, as Duckworth acknowledges, does not address elements such as "outside forces" and luck that can make all the grit in the world irrelevant. As she writes, the book is "about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn't all that matters, it's incomplete."
I'd add this country's - and this city's - obsession with saviors, which can lead to finger-pointing and inaction; and our continuing national failure to provide equal educational opportunities.
Still, her book gives cause for hope and an immediate path to action: A student's failure or setback should be "interpreted as a cue to try harder," she writes, "rather than as confirmation that they lacked the ability to succeed."
Tommy Rowan is a staff writer. Contact him at 215-854-2269 or TRowan@philly.com.