Ssssshhh...Someone's Thinking (Part 2)

culture education family Oct 17, 2021

 Charisma is not character. Loud is not leadership.

In Part 1 we examined cultural beliefs about, and bias against, introversion. These mindsets direct in many schools, resulting in numerous lackluster performances. This isn’t new. Susan Cain, in her compelling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, writes:

“By 1950 the slogan of the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth was ‘A healthy personality for every child.’ Well-meaning parents of the midcentury agreed that quiet was unacceptable and gregariousness ideal for both girls and boys. Some discouraged their children from solitary and serious hobbies, like classical music, that could make them unpopular. They sent their kids to school at increasingly young ages, where the main assignment was learning to socialize. Introverted children were often singled out as problem cases (a situation familiar to anyone with an introverted child today).”

One of the greatest concerns about Covid has rightly been students’ education. There is a real and relevant digital divide. The demands on educators to obtain, learn, and implement new technology has been enormous. The loss of physical, emotional, and mental stimulation and support has yet to be quantified, especially for at-risk and disadvantaged students. However, it may turn out that introverts have been given an advantage.

Schools have traditionally been designed with consideration to numbers, not individuals. How many people can fit per square foot in a classroom? What hallway width is required to move x number of persons at a time? How can seating be arranged to focus in primarily one direction? Factoring in the effect of one’s physical environments happens by teachers placing colorful banners, posters, or displays on the wall. Little, if any, thought is given to how the physical environment influences students physiologically or psychologically.

Classrooms have followed the banal and adverse practice of designing open work zones, touting this as proof of progress. Yet research indicates these “we’re-all-in-it-together” spaces impede quality work. Many families discovered during Covid lockdowns how unsuitable open concept homes were for actually living in, recognizing private spaces for focus, reflection, or renewal weren’t just nice but necessary. Yet children continue to be arranged in pods, forcing them to choose between active engagement with their pod-mates and winning the approval of their teachers and extroverted classmates or retreating to protect their inner resources from being consumed by their peers.

And it’s not just space arrangements which impair introverts. According to Cain, “Research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert.” While teaching to different learning styles – some of which research is now showing to not be as significant as once thought – is considered “Instruction 101,” little has been taught about respecting and reaching both the introvert and the extrovert. “… at school you might have been prodded to ‘come out of your shell’ – that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”

“Group learning” and “teamwork” became education’s sacred cows. Or perhaps more accurately, its “Golden Calf.” We must remember we may teach to the masses, but we only reach (or don’t) persons.

Learning occurs in individuals, not groups.

So how can educators close the introvert-extrovert gap? Here are ten suggestions for starting:

  1. Learn, don’t assume, what is introversion and extroversion. It’s unfortunate these terms are commonplace, because this familiarity has robbed most people of a true understanding of this personality component. Cain comments, “We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts – which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are. Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts – in other words, one out of every two or three people you know.” Introversion and shyness are not the same; nor as extroversion and confidence.
  2. Ditch the negative labels. Unsocial. Unfriendly. Withdrawn. Doesn’t participate. Shy. Replace with positive ones. Reflective. Thoughtful. Insightful.
  3. Actively affirm introversion, while not disparaging extroversion. Keep in mind that culturally, “…we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.” Even if you are an introvert and/or appreciate introverts, remember introverted students typically trudge into classrooms carrying the cultural baggage they don’t quite measure up. “Yet today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable.”
  4. Limit requiring participation in group activities. Give students a choice in completing an assignment alone or with a partner or a team.
  5. Give time to move into concentrated mode. If you desire a vigorous class discussion, prepare students ahead of time. Give the discussion questions a day or two in advance. Introverts need this time to process and percolate, and extroverts can use the time to move into deeper levels of thought or improving articulating their ideas with analogies, richer word choices, or conciseness.
  6. Identify the number of tasks within an assignment and the time needed to complete and provide a balance over time. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly, moving from one thing to the next. They are more inclined to be risk takers. Introverts work more slowly and deliberately, preferring one task at a time where they can focus their intense powers of concentration.
  7. Make use of online discussion boards. One exception to introverts’ aversion to group work is online brainstorming and feedback. Research does show when groups brainstorm electronically, they do perform better than individuals. And the larger the group, the better. Removing the barriers to effective in-person communication is especially helpful for introverts.
  8. Recognize and reward leadership based on virtue and contribution, not volume and charm. Self-leadership is the prerequisite to other-leadership. Although our “Culture of Personality” ignores this truth, it doesn’t invalidate it. Educators can advance a “Culture of Character” by valuing and affirming leadership based on accomplishments, not enthusiasm.
  9. Be empathetic with introverts. We go to chiropractors for misaligned spines and auto shops for misaligned tires because remaining in these states will lead to debilitating or dangerous outcomes. Introverts often live misaligned with traditional school structures for years – and formative years at that -- while being expected to thrive. Make room in and outside the classroom for solitude and low levels of stimulation, especially towards the end of a day, week, semester, or year.
  10. Affirm the unique contributions of both extroverts and introverts. Would there have been a Steve Jobs, an extrovert, without a Steve Wozniak, an introvert? Would Wozniak – the designer of today’s personal computer – have brought his talents to the market without a Jobs? Both personality components are equally rich, vital, and honorable.

Cain reminds us, “Madeline L’Engle, the author of the classic young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time and more than sixty other books, says that she would never have developed into such a bold thinker had she not spent so much of her childhood alone with books and ideas.” Introverts may not be the first to raise their hand to answer questions or instigate vigorous class discussions, but sometimes it's those who start last who finish first.



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