Since 2013, over 11 million of us have viewed Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk entitled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” While her teaching experience and graduate research were indeed fascinating and resonated with quite a few, I couldn’t help but think her findings were merely echoes of ancient wisdom reborn for a newer and wider audience.

Consider the words of King Solomon, the wisest king of all time, who observed in the book of Proverbs:

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest.

(Proverbs 6:6-8 NIV)

The ant is contrasted with the lazy person because of its initiative, responsibility, determination, foresight, and tenacity–its grit. It has a job to do,  it does it, and King Solomon holds its actions up as a model of wisdom. Grumbling, complaining, and sighs of “I just don’t feel like it,” are nary to be found in this passage.

We, and our students, could learn a lot from the ants.

From Proverbs to poetry we again hear a call for grit in Rudyard Kipling’s timeless poem “If” written to his 12-year-old son, John, in 1895. Kipling’s charge reflects the powerful responsibility parents have in preparing their children for the triumphs and challenges of adulthood.  Follow along with Tom O’Bedlam as he reads this classic:



Kipling’s words are character-shaping and life-giving. He anticipates the challenges ahead his son may face from peer pressure, self-doubt, capitulation, and other dark nights of the soul. As he finishes, the definition of a man emerges:  one whose depth of character is shaped by choices large and small. In sum: choose wisely.

Winston Churchill concurred with Kipling’s sentiment when he charged the graduating class at Harrow School in 1941:

“…never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

However, it seems our young  have lost their way and have missed this wisdom of the Ancients.

Angela Duckworth rediscovers that lost wisdom in her research and reignites the great responsibility of all parents, teachers, and loved ones in positions of influence with the young in her TED Talk below:


Following the lead of King Solomon, Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill, and Angela Duckworth, let’s get “gritty about getting our kids grittier.”

Onward to another year of making a difference in the lives of our students!


4 thoughts on “Grit: Ancient Wisdom

  1. Angela Ducksworth’s podcast is awesome. I hope schools start taking the wisdom of “grit” to heart, though it’ll be interesting to see how each of them implement it in their own ways (since the work “is not yet done”). Some teachers in our school are big on the book Mindset – which goes along the same grain. Have you heard of it?

    1. Grit is certainly a fabulous conversation piece for our classes, Kerri, as we call our students ever higher. I’ve not yet read Carol Dweck’s Mindset, but I am familiar with her ideas of growth vs. fixed mindset that we’ve been discussing with our students for several years and seeing results! It’s all about students engaging in what David Kolb calls “The Learning Way” by starting with the belief that “I am a learner.” Thanks for your comment!

      1. Now the question is how to get students who’ve already checked out to come around to the “I am a learner” mindset – also the students who are/have to be more worried about survival than education…that’s a very tough one.

      2. It’s certainly a change that will take time, but sometimes it just starts with a discussion with our students. Thanks for your comment, Kerri!

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