Valuing the Introverts

I just recently finished reading Susan Cain’s wonderful book: Quiet: The power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking

I found it a superb book, really thought-provoking and lived up to the introduction that I’d had to Susan Cain’s ideas from her TED talk. Inevitably, as I was reading I couldn’t help looking at the ideas in the book from the perspective of an educator and the ways in which the education system treats introverts, the shy and the quiet. Educators and parents tend, all too often, to join in a conspiracy to force introverts to ‘pretend’ they’re something different. We see elementary school parents and teachers exhorting the child to ‘join in’, to see going off in a corner quietly alone to play with a toy or read a book as somehow deviant behavior that should be eradicated.

This is the point where I have to put my hand up and say that I perceive myself as someone with ambivert tendencies, oscillating at times between the tendencies of extroverts and introverts. When in public I probably tend to behave as a classic extrovert (including frequently talking too much and not always with enough pre-thought to marshal all of my ideas). That said, at times I’m conscious that some of that flows from learned behavior, that somewhere along the way I figured as a child that the game was stacked towards the talkers more than the listeners and so modeled myself accordingly.

However, I’m also aware of my own need for ‘down time’, time to get away from the rush, to bury my head in a good book (like Quiet) and to think, contemplate and recharge batteries. Sometimes, in fact, I can be downright unsociable!
So maybe that’s the side of me that really gets concerned that if we have education systems that seek to force every child to be a joiner, talker, participator – all thrusting forward for the limelight, we’re potentially contributing to a society that will become ever more superficial and lacking the breakthrough benefits and insights that emanate most often from the shy, the quiet, the introverts. I believe that we need to provide children in schools with the space and time to have quiet time, down time and also opportunities to be part of low intensity, thoughtful discussion. Something is missing if we just simply encourage the million miles an hour, frenetic pace of the extrovert gabblers and force the quieter students to shape up and play along, even if this is unnatural and uncomfortable for them.

It is for these reasons that I felt uncomfortable with this article from The Atlantic, by Jessica Lahey suggesting that introvert children should be cajoled in to fitting in to the noisy world using assessment to make them fit in with the predominant trend for noise and speaking up. I was surprised to find Lahey seeking to take justification for her actions from Susan Cain’s book; The Atlantic – Article: Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School

She uses the example from the book of Rosa Parks and the impact she had on black civil liberties when she defied the segregation rules on a bus. However, the book stresses how parks did all this without grand speeches or noisiness, but through quiet dignified disobedience when she reached the point where she had had enough. She left all the ra-ra and noise to the likes of Martin Luther King. Hers’ was the classic way of the introvert and I believe fails to offer a case for schools to push and reinforce the model of noisy, impulsive talk for talk sake and students competing to be noticed, talking so as to gain from good assessments. The many comments that follow the article reflect especially the discomfort felt quite deeply by many introverts about the way such approaches in education fail to balance the needs of all children or acknowledge this key aspect of their differentness.

Leading, Not Pandering – Work You’re Proud Of

Here’s a great blog post from Seth Godin: Seth Godin Blog Post (Click on the hyperlink to read).

Whilst he focuses on the industries and professions that he knows best, I believe the sentiments he expresses apply very strongly to how we set up and run educational institutions and particularly schools. Too often, I’ve listened to educators excusing away mediocre and ‘average’ strategy, planning or work on the basis that – “it’s good enough, it’s what the parents want.”

Educators are really not so different to other professionals, or shouldn’t be! That means we must have the courage to do our research, know our stuff, be the ‘experts’ and apply all that knowledge in the pursuit of work that is meaningful, relevant to the Twenty First Century and that pushes the boundaries and raises standards for ever.

OK is not OK in the effort to give our children an effective education that prepares them for a very different tomorrow.

What Digital Natives Need From School

The term ‘digital native’ has now become a regular part of the language, used to describe a person born in to the digital age and therefore accepting it as a completely natural part of life (instead of seeing it as adjunct or ‘tacked on’ to life, as experienced by the Digital Immigrant’). The term was first coined by Marc Prensky (click on link to learn more about him) , one of the leading thinkers in education in the Twenty First Century. His thinking has come to be increasingly influential in discourse on the future course of school education. Unfortunately, though, as with so many other such thinkers, whilst lots of educators nod their heads sagely and credit the wisdom of what is said, precious little is done to really change key fundamental elements of how school education is carried out.

I was therefore especially pleased to come across a very well-written, thought provoking editorial piece by Prensky for the ASCD Educational Leadership monthly magazine, March 2013 edition. It’s quite long, but I believe it goes to the heart of so many of the issues in education reform today that it should be essential reading for every educator (and well worthwhile for parents as well) to understand where we should be placing our priorities and how we fulfil our responsibilities to prepare young people for the world of the Twenty First Century.

ASCD – Educational Leadership Editorial – Marc Prensky

One of the paragraphs that struck me most powerfully was the following:

“As we educators embrace these new capacities, it’s important to understand that technology isn’t just a “new way to do old things,” which is mostly how we use it in schools today. That is, in fact, the most trivial use of technology. The only reason to use technology in that way is to make us more efficient and enable us to cut out something old to make room for new things we need. Anyone who maintains that we should continue to teach and use both the old ways and the new is suggesting that we maintain an expensive horse in the barn in case our car breaks down. This is unaffordably inefficient and just plain wrong. If our technology does break down temporarily (and everything does), we repair it and move on.”

I am reminded of the early days of my career in Private Banking. Despite the fact that we had computers and that systems were fully backed up, there were very strict policies dictating that still hard copies of EVERYTHING had to be printed out and kept on files that sat in rows of metal filing cabinets. Banking has moved on and addressed many such issues, but the changes required in education are far more than just administrative. What Prensky calls for is a complete rethink on the purpose of school education, the curriculum that provides the vehicle to achieve those purposes and ultimately the entire way of working within the spaces we construct to carry forward those purposes.

Prensky calls for a complete rethink on curriculum with the following critical paragraphs in the article:

How could we rethink our K–12 curriculum for the 21st century, symbiotically combining human strengths with the most powerful technology strengths? We might begin by eliminating as separate classes all the subjects we now teach: math, English, science, social studies. All those subjects have become bloated and outdated and—far more important—are the wrong way to focus our kids’ education in the 21st century.

K–12 study should focus on three crucial areas: Effective Thinking, which would include creative and critical thinking as well as portions of math, science, logic, persuasion, and even storytelling; Effective Action, which would include entrepreneurship, goal setting, planning, persistence, project management, and feedback; and Effective Relationships, which would include emotional intelligence, teamwork, ethics, and more.

The remainder of this curriculum would focus on Effective Accomplishment—what you do with what you’ve learned. That part would be entirely project-based and real-world oriented and would differ for every student. It would include much of what we now call “content,” but only what students would need to accomplish something real.”

A fundamental challenge remains. In business, innovation and change are partly driven by the positive motivation for growth, success and achievement and partly by the negative emotion of fear – “If we don’t innovate, our competitors will destroy us.” Unfortunately, in education neither of these imperatives really exist to act as drivers of innovation and change. Education doesn’t work in an economically ‘real’ market, so neither the success imperative or the failure imperative act as effective drivers. Regrettably, here in India we see plenty of evidence that failure to innovate doesn’t bring any kind of fearful misfortune on educational institutions. In fact, we see plenty of evidence that those who don’t innovate still get to grow and be quite successful (at least on financial measures). I believe in education the motivation to innovate and change has to come from a moral imperative – if we fail to innovate and change, we fail a generation of children and we fail the world, giving it too many people who lack the key skills and competencies to take the world forward positively.

The question then becomes – are there enough educators ready to take ‘the road less travelled’ to fulfil a moral imperative?

And Don’t Forget It !!


Ted Global 2013 Speaker List

Here’s a fascinating and rather stimulating list of speakers for this year’s Ted Global Conference. For most of us, getting there isn’t an option, but I eagerly await the videos being released in coming months:

Ted Global 2013 Speaker List

Insanity over ADHD

This requires little comment really, other than to say that for the sake of the next generation i wish educators would stop permitting such nonsense to be perpetrated on innocent children. It almost amounts to a human rights issue!

“There’s a tremendous push where if the kid’s behavior is thought to be quote-unquote abnormal – if they’re not sitting quietly at their desk – that’s pathological, instead of just childhood.”
DR. JEROME GROOPMAN, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, on the dramatic rise in the number of children diagnosed with, and given medication for, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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