Foreword by: Pedro A. Noguera
Publication Date: July 17, 2020
How can we promote the learning and well-being of all students, especially those who come from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds? Anindya Kundu argues that we can fight against deeply rooted inequalities in the American educational system by harnessing student agency—each person’s unique capacity for positive change. To make his case, Kundu draws powerful narratives from a population of individuals who beat the odds to become academically and professionally successful. These strivers have overcome challenges such as broken families, homelessness, unexpected pregnancies, forms of abuse, incarceration, and more, to make it in the world. But it wasn’t simply individualism, tenacity, resilience, or grit that helped them. Rather, as Kundu illustrates, it was a combination of social and cultural supports that paved the path towards their dreams, harnessing the inherent power of their agency.
Anindya Kundu is currently a senior fellow at the City University of New York Graduate Center. His work has appeared in NPR Education, MSNBC, the Huffington Post, and he has given two TED Talks with millions of views.
"Kundu’s book is much more than simply an academic contribution to the vast literature on education and social mobility. If his core ideas are taken seriously, this book can serve as a resource to educators, policymakers, community advocates, and others who seek to address the educational needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged students."
—From the Foreword by Pedro A. Noguera, dean, USC Rossier School of Education
"One of my favorite thinkers on the structural and personal opportunities all children need to thrive."
—Angela Duckworth, author of the bestseller Grit
“Whether you are an educator, a youth organizer, a theorist, or a researcher, you will appreciate Kundu’s commitment to representing ‘strivers of color’ from low-income communities in all the complexity they deserve. You will meet young people of vision and appetite. You will read of the academic hunger and the yearning for recognition that propels these young people forward. You will bear witness to the legacy of Medgar Evers, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and others in the lives of young people who take on too much, try too hard to be perfect, burn out, and rise up again. Kundu offers a powerful counter-narrative to caricatured stories of deficit and romantic narratives of grit. He refuses to equate disadvantage with damage, but also refuses to meritocratize the steep climb for working class youth of color.”
—Michelle Fine, distinguished professor of critical psychology, The Graduate Center CUNY
"The Power of Student Agency is not only about what students can do. It is precisely a recognition of how we must see students, moving our gaze beyond the deficit perspective and toward a profit perspective that reveals not only the agency but power inherent in all human beings."
—David E. Kirkland, professor of urban education and executive director of NYU Metro Center
“Agency is the antidote to hopelessness and despair. Kundu’s exploration of this essential element of our humanity must be attended to if we hope to build schools that support the wellness of our children.”
—Jeff Duncan-Andrade, professor of ethnic studies, San Francisco State University
"Anindya Kundu pushes us to disrupt the way we understand grit and resilience to actually equip students with knowledge, skills, and experiences that further develop their own strengths and talents. During these unprecedented times, we must ensure that students have a social-political consciousness beyond thriving in unjust systems."
—Maurice R. Swinney, Chief Equity Officer, Chicago Public Schools
Foreword Pedro A. Noguera
Prologue: Welcome to “American Dilemmas”
Introduction: From Seeing Roses in Concrete to Believing Schools Are Gardens
1. Rugged Individualism and the Co-Option of Grit
Individual Outcomes are Largely Products of “Social and Cultural Reproduction”
Swim Tests and Afro-Puffs
Getting to Agency: Limitations of Grit in Fully Explaining Achievement
2. Agency as a Foundational Sociological Concept
A Classic Sociological Debate and Finding a Balance through Grit and Agency
Studying Exceptional Cases to Broaden the Understanding of Disadvantage
Agency Re-Defined and Operationalized
3. The Home and Family
Parenting Amidst Structural Limitations
“Growing Up Too Soon”: Immense Responsibilities and Nuanced Effects on Agency
Young Parents: An Amplifying Effect on Agency and Grit
4. The Social Environment and School Settings
Social and Cultural Capital Revisited: Essential Ingredients to Success
Mentors and Networks: Improving Students’ Worldviews, Senses of Self, and Help-Seeking Behaviors
5. The Ever-Evolving Human
Purpose: A Component of Passion and a Basis for Developing Grit and Agency
Giving Back to Make Positive Change: A Form of Positive Resistance
Faith: Reaffirms Purpose, Hones Focus and Fuels Agency
Mental Health, Wellness and Fulfilment Benefit from Monitoring and Social Supports
Understanding Burnout from a Social Perspective
Guided Self-Reflection can Help a Person Re-Realize Their Passions and Agency
6. Conclusion: Fighting the Normalization of Failure
Shifting Paradigms About What’s Possible
Recommendations for Fostering Grit and Agency
Appendix: Positionality, Research Design, and Conceptual Framework
Why I Research
Addressing Limitations and Looking Forward
Participant Reference Table
About the Author