Flex time

Maybe you’ve read about grit, which education researcher Angela Lee Duckworth defines as “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.” Duckworth delivered a very popular TED talk revealing grit as the key to success in life.

On the surface, it sounds good, but one of my favorite contrarians, Alfie Kohn, points out another side to grit, questioning whether persistence is always a good thing.

For homeschoolers, this question is particularly pertinent. Our kids aren’t expected to spend their days sitting through classes mostly chosen for them by someone else, then go home and complete assignments they may or may not find meaningful. How, under those circumstances, can we get our kids to learn persistence?

My kids are now adults and teenagers, and my personal observation is that they’re not great at sticking with something they don’t like. Sometimes, as I watch one of my kids abandon a job or a project, my knee-jerk reaction is one of exasperation and judgment. After all, they should follow through, shouldn’t they? How will they achieve “success” if they don’t have the “grit” to do so? Then I remember that I don’t want my kids to end up like so many people I see around me, accepting the perceived inevitability of a daily grind, working in jobs they hate.

I don’t think it’s likely to happen to my kids, and one of the main reasons for that is their willingness to quit something that isn’t working for them. That doesn’t mean they lack many of the gritty qualities Duckworth’s research describes. I often see them working tirelessly and with great determination on projects that matter to them, even if the process involves hurdles that aren’t so much fun.

So what is it that makes it possible to embody the beneficial parts of grit, but avoid the downside described by Kohn? I think it’s flexibility. When people are flexible, they can learn, think, and adapt with ease. They can apply an elastic mind and fresh ideas to their hard work. And they can, if they choose, drop it all and start something new.

Homeschooling offers the opportunity for a flexible lifestyle, one in which schedules, approaches to learning, parenting style, and a family’s day-to-day can morph according to individual and familial needs. It offers kids the chance to experiment with various interests and seek out what they’re truly passionate about. It reminds us that quitting isn’t necessarily a dirty word, and it doesn’t even have to signal an end to something, because flexible people know that return is always possible, and that life isn’t a straight line to be rigidly traveled, but rather a meandering, complex journey that is, after all, what we make it.


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