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.