There's been a lot of press lately about Susan Cain's introvert's manifesto, Quiet. An off the charts 'I' myself, I downloaded and read the free preview as soon as I heard about the book. It's received mixed reviews, from both introverts and extroverts alike, but I think that its premise that being outgoing may be erroneously perceived as superior has some merit.
I have a friend and colleague with whom I have worked for almost 15 years who is an extreme extrovert. We eat lunch together every day, and our relationship works in part because she willingly initiates the conversation on a daily basis. Over the years we've become close enough to laugh at just how introverted I am, and I know that she accepts me.
She is a special education teacher, and a good one, and she and I agree that the best approach is to meet the needs of the individual students where they are, whether they have been identified formally or not, and often I turn to her for advice in making accommodations in my class. I like to think that my own experience makes me a good resource, too, and not surprisingly, our lunchtime conversation frequently revolves around the challenges we're facing on the team.
Not long ago she was describing a situation where a certain student neither wanted to work in a group nor make a presentation in the social studies class she pushed in to. Based on our knowledge of the kid, the other teacher, the class, and the assignment, we bandied strategies to get that student on board with the activity. This was before I had heard of Cain's book, but as we were talking it occurred to me that maybe, since this child was an introvert, we were asking too much. "Why should he have to do that if it's against his nature?" I asked.
This was new ground for both of us, and my friend reacted as if I was being less than serious (which of course I often am in these conversations-- after all, it's lunch time). "No really," I said, "why do we force kids who are uncomfortable with interpersonal stuff to do it anyway?"
"Um, because they're going to need those skills in the future?" my friend answered.
And all of a sudden I glimpsed a grand extrovert bias that has permeated education and society for my entire life. I realized that as much as my friend liked and respected me that she considered my reserve to be a deficit. I thought of all the books about winning friends and influencing people and mastering the art of small talk, and I remembered all the times my mom and my brother talked about forcing themselves out of their comfort zones in order to do their jobs.
"Why?" I repeated, and the incredulity on my friend's face just made me want to mess with her a little. I gasped in mock horror. "You are prejudiced!" I accused her. "You think there's something wrong with being an introvert that needs to be fixed." I shook my head. "Why?" I asked again.
We left it at that; the end of our 35 minute lunch period was near, and our students were returning to class. It was never a serious conversation, but the implications stayed with me. In a world of increasing noise, do we really want to encourage all of our students to add to it?