Friday, June 3, 2016
Next week, I will post some reflections on the contents of the book, but for now, I would like to discuss professors publishing for a popular audience. Tongue-twisting alliteration unintended.
I am thankful that Duckworth wrote this book for a popular audience rather than in a way that would target a narrow slice of academia. Even as a professor myself, I find books written for popular audience easier to digest, especially if in a different discipline. While popular press books often oversimplify, I would rather a professor author a popular press book on her studies (and studies in her field) than have a journalist attempt to explain them. Also, while a popular press book may oversimplify, professors tend to be intentional about avoiding claims that are too sweeping. Note that in this interview, like the book, Duckworth is careful to state that grit is not the only thing that contributes to success. Finally, especially when the professor has done the background academic work first, as Duckworth did in many peer-reviewed journal articles, a popular press book can reach more people and inspire change and may eventually lead to broader engagement with the underlying academic articles.
Grit, as a popular press book, has already reached a large audience. Grit was published by Scribner: An Imprint of Simon & Schuster (not a university press) and jumped into the top-5 of The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover non-fiction. Duckworth had already reached well over a million people with her TED talk, and the book allowed her to be much more nuanced than she could be in a 6 minute speech. The TED talk was a gateway to her popular press book and perhaps her popular press book with be a gateway to the academic research she cites.
One problem with engaging a large, popular audience is that the professor may lose control of her message, and people may misinterpret the findings. Duckworth looks like she is staying engaged in the conversation, however, and has, for example, written to argue against grading schools on grit.
In short, there are certainly potential problems when writing about academic topics for a popular audience, but I am glad Duckworth took on the challenge and spread her research in this way. That said, as I will discuss next week, Grit does have weaknesses, in addition to its strengths.