A New View: We Need to Empower Introverts

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March 3, 2015

It can be hard, as an extroverted person, to understand my daughter’s perspective of the world as a definite introvert. I try to give her freedom to approach life in her own way while teaching her about community.  An article answering the question, What Makes a Good Education? through the TED website, helped me understand her school experience a bit better.

How to Teach a Young Introvert is an interview with Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. One quote that jumped off the page at me stated, “What an extroverted act it is in the first place to go to school. All day long, you are in a classroom full of people with constant stimulation.” I’d never quite thought of school in those terms before. She’s right. You’d think as a teacher, I’d have grasped the idea of the exhausting classroom.

For my daughter, whose perfect day would involve her cat, her book, and perhaps her best friend, a day full of group work, lunch tables, and field trips must require every ounce of coping power from her. On top of that, Cain chose a word that revealed so much more about this struggle. She refers to recess as a time meant for kids to “restore” themselves. “The notion that students should restore themselves by running out into a big noisy yard is very limiting.” Given my new perspective on my daughter’s school day, I can clearly see how recess would just add another task to get through.

Cain suggests schools stop trying to use a one-size-fits-all model and move to allow more options. An obvious place to start would be balancing out individual and group activities within the classroom or utilizing more pair structures, small enough to be comfortable for an introvert but with a social component for the extrovert. She also challenges teachers to rethink what constitutes participation in class. The extrovert who enjoys throwing out their ideas will surely dominate in a strictly conversational model while the introvert tends to withdraw.

I’ll never forget a parent teacher conference I had for my daughter a year ago. In response to my question of whether or not she was engaged in what went on in the classroom the teacher answered, “When she wants to be. If it’s something that captures her mind, you can’t stop her. But otherwise, she will keep to herself.” I felt so grateful for a teacher that knew her well enough to spot her work, even when it stayed in the background. This was also, by no accident, the class in which my daughter felt the most empowered and comfortable.

Because I felt Ms. Cain had a unique window into this part of my child, I listened to her TED talk, The Power of Introverts. I wanted to paint so many of the things she had to say on posters to hang in my daughter’s room. She’s right. The world has skewed into the favor of the businessman, the showman, the charismatic. But introverts “the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”

The poster I will hang in my own mental room, as a reminder to extroverted self, “Solitude matters. And for some people, it is the air that they breathe.”

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