When Grit Isn't Enough Book Launch!


On Tuesday, October 17, Beacon Press published Linda's new book, When Grit Isn't Enough: A High School Principal Examines How Poverty and Inequality Thwart the College-for-All Promise. In the book, Linda investigates assumptions that inform our ideas about education today, revealing how these beliefs mask systemic inequity. Drawing from her experiences as the founding headmaster of Boston Arts Academy (BAA), which she led for 14 years, and more than 80 interviews with alumni that she conducted after she stepped down, When Grit Isn't Enough argues that it's time for policy-makers and educators to face these uncomfortable issues. It also explores how educators need room for creativity and student-centered teaching and learning to better serve all students, increase college retention rates, and develop alternatives to college that do not disadvantage students on the basis of race or income.


On the evening of October 17, Linda and friends spoke at Emerson College's Semel Theater to celebrate the book launch. The evening started with music performed by students from Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS) and CLCS alums who are now at BAA. 

After an introduction from Emerson's president, Dr. Lee Pelton, Linda reflected on her motivation to write When Grit Isn't Enough and read an excerpt. Here are some highlights from Linda's talk:

  • I wrote this book to start a larger conversation about what we believe will help students succeed to after high school. I'm angry because of the lack of conversation about in this country about what it really takes to create the access and equity that we really need.

  • I write about five myths. If we carefully interrogate them, we may be able to build better bridges between post-secondary and K-12 education. These myths are, money doesn't have to be an obstacle; race doesn't matter; just work harder; everyone can go to college; and if you believe, your dreams will come true.

  • BAA's students have an amazing track record of college access and success, but we still must ask what happened to the third of those who started college and didn't finish. We assume that because there are so many wonderful stories of those who make it that the stories of those who don't must be the result of students' fault. But that isn't true most of the time.


Linda then read from Chapter Three, which is focused on the "just work harder" myth. Contrasting a school that emphasizes "grit" by tightly controlling student behavior and individual expression with another that prioritizes thoughtful engagement, the reading made clear that in many schools today, traits such as curiosity and creativity--essential to lifelong success--aren't well facilitated by no-excuses, grit-focused approaches.


Following Linda's reading and remarks, Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president emeritus of Wheelock College, led a discussion about the book and its themes with Abdi Ali, teacher at Mission Hill School; Anne Clark, headmaster of Boston Arts Academy; Chris Gabrieli, chairman of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education; and Kevin McCaskill, executive director of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. Their discussion explored what we miss when we focus too intensely on conformity and test scores rather than empathy and creativity.

Want more? Read an excerpt from When Grit Isn't Enough here. And please consider posting a review on Amazon. This will help others find the book and understand its value. Thank you!