What does “giving up” really mean?

I’m not referring to mornings, at least not yet, though this was was undeniably more difficult than the past two have been. I snoozed on both the first and second alarms, producing a chorus of only mildly pleasant electronic noises. When I snoozed on the second alarm, I started to feel defeated. Autonomous (as I mentioned yesterday), but nonetheless defeated.

When I realized I still had the headache that I had yesterday, I was even more tempted to give up on this morning. And then I remembered my laptop’s battery had mysteriously drained yesterday; when I turned it on this morning it quickly fell from 5 to 3 percent power, and then it ever so kindly presented that cryptic message, the one in which it notifies its user that it will shut itself off soon–how soon? Three minutes? Thirty seconds? Enough time to look up a password?

I took Jacob’s bluetooth keyboard, connected it to my iPad, and somehow managed to log in to WordPress. The parentheses keys don’t work properly. In fact, only a few of the punctuation keys even produce the mark they claim to produce. It would be easy to give up. It would also be easy to do it later (which defeats the whole purpose of the morning routine) or to reframe it as strategically moving on to something different. I actually like writing, so I’m not giving up this easily, even though the spellchecker isn’t working and I have a headache.

But what if I really didn’t care for what I’m doing? Or if I didn’t see the purpose? One of the big education buzzwords right now is “grit.” More like: GRIT! GRIT! GRIIIIIIIT! The idea is that kids need to have this inherent desire to work through a problem or persist on a difficult assignment and that if they do, they will eventually succeed, and if they don’t succeed in school but have grit, they will still be fine in life. There is some merit to this for sure. But what’s elided is the act that districts and schools and teachers are the ones setting the bar and that sometimes the students need to be able to hope over it. If they continually fail, or if everything (reading, spelling, attention, memory, handwriting) is so difficult, it actually makes logical sense to stop trying.

Why keep trying if nothing works? In other areas of life, we do. I stop reading books if`I don’t find them interesting, useful, or entertaining. If I don’t want to read the section of the paper I find uninteresting or personally meaningful, I don’t have to. No sports section for me! People leave relationships when they no longer work. I actually think the “field” of relationships can provide some insight on giving up. For example, the research on the topic of cohabitation generally concludes that if a couple intentionally move in together, they don’t increase their likelihood of separating later. On the other hand, if they just “slide” into living in the same place and don’t actually make a conscious decision, they are more likely to part ways later. I may have read a book or two on living together back in the day …

What distinguishes these two groups is their intention or the lack therof. That can help to reframe the giving up versus grit dichotomy. In other words, if kids can know the differece between intentionally changin couse and can reframe a decison to quit as instead one to move on to something else, that makes sense to me.  If they are considered or consider themslves quittes every time they stop something, well, that is not exactly motivation to keep trying.

But what about when the topic at hand is reading? Or learning vocabulary? Or analyzing literature? What if it’s really, really difficult and they really don’t like it? It’s hard to parse the continual disappointment from the subject matter. I mean, can I get them to like it, or even enjoy it, if I show them that they are not ging to feel defeated every time, if they might even feel successful or eventually autonomous?