Focusing on the Quiet Ones
Research indicates that as many as half of all Americans are introverts. Despite this, current U.S. education policy heavily favors extroverts. Desks in classrooms are often arranged in pod formation to encourage group work, more outspoken students get the bulk of attention from teachers, and focus on consensus leaves out the quieter voices.
Common Core standards that are in force in most states are particularly disadvantageous to introverted students. In the section of Common Core titled “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening,” at every grade level from K-12, the focus is on contributing to discussions and persuading others to accept your viewpoint. The first requirement in this section (CCRA.SL.1) states “Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.”
Parents and teachers need to be acutely aware that collaboration and persuasion aren’t characteristics that introverts generally enjoy. They prefer to work alone and to avoid conflict. They’d often rather write than speak. Yet Common Core forces children who prefer to work independently to work in groups. It forces children who would rather respond in writing to be public speakers. Common Core forces students who believe strongly in their opinions to give way to those with louder voices and to back down in the face of others’ more forceful presentations.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a resource for those who wish to understand the different needs of introverts and extroverts.
Cain says, “Research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert.” She says this isn’t a new trend; according to a Harvard provost in the 1940s, the policy was to reject those applicants who were “sensitive,” in favor of the “healthy extrovert kind.”
Introverts aren’t weaker or less capable than extroverts. There is something lost when what Cain calls the “Extrovert Ideal” takes over. We must value introverts for who they are. Cain quotes science journalist Winifred Gallagher, who writes: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.”