Society has morphed into a comfort zone for extroverts which has left introverts dangling off the edge of a cliff. Today’s education system is a microcosm of this, too often the quiet kids who never raise their hand in class are forgotten. Instead those who are outspoken and energised in social environments end up overshadowing the more introverted students. In this feature article, I argue that the current education system does not accommodate for a range of personality types and instead favours the ‘ideal’ extroverted student. I draw on research to provide solutions to this problem and put forward an initiative for change, in this new generation of education.
Sixteen-year-old me sitting on the far side of the classroom, an empty desk between myself and a fellow student, being addressed about the requirements to be voted in for the school beauty pageant. She must have ‘personality’. These words have confused me to this very day. I have heard of one having multiple personalities, whether psychologically diagnosed as such or simply ‘two-faced’, but never before have I come across someone devoid of personality- even the most uninteresting of people. The connotation in her words was obvious, someone with outward confidence, someone who loves the spot light- the extrovert ideal.
This ideal is praised everywhere, the ‘birth place’ however, of this biased view towards personality, is in schools. When describing the perfect student, teachers account ‘class participation’ as one of the most important aspects. The standard level of intelligence or creativity is often associated with the level of talkativeness in class. How is it that the loudest ideas are automatically assumed to be the best? This is not to say that an extroverted student cannot develop good ideas however, the extroverted personality does have a tendency to speak before they think, owing to their dominant trait of impulsiveness (Rocklin & Revelle, 1981, 279). Therefore, we should be ruling out the stereotypical, linear association of quality of ideas to the volume of one’s voice.
This association needs to be reconsidered as it is not always the case and is debatably untrue. As author and lecturer Susan Cain, argues in her book Quiet, “the more creative people [tend] to be socially poised introverts” (2012, 74) and furthermore has discovered, through her seven years of research on the subject, that “solitude is an important key to creativity” (2012, 75). When examining the setup within classrooms, with desks arranged in groups and the increasing requirement for students to participate in group assignments and discussions, we see how this is completely contradictory to Cain’s discovery and shows the lack of accommodation for introverted students in the classroom.
This controversial situation calls for someone to speak up, a somewhat challenging task for those directly affected. Susan Cain, who is herself an introvert, has faced her fears and stood up for the quieter population to create an organisation called The Quiet Revolution. The mission of this organisation, with regards to education, is to give schools the tools to accommodate all personality types. In an interview for Ted-Ed Blog, Cain suggests practical solutions for schools to achieve this goal such as introducing ‘quiet time’ during the school day (this mainly applies to younger grades). According to Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, the distinguishing quality between introverted and extroverted students is the level of external stimulation they can take before feeling overwhelmed (Mitchell, 2015). Therefore, by allowing children to recharge with alone time, a balance of stimulation is introduced to prevent introverted students from becoming overwhelmed. Other practical solutions suggested were, changing the actual classroom setting to be more flexible; by including both areas for group discussions as well as quiet corners for solo work. In this way, a balance can be created within school environments instead of tipping the scale to one or other extreme. And most importantly, doing away with group work almost completely. Instead a revised system can be introduced whereby the students first come up with ideas or strategies individually and only thereafter collaborate as a group. A major change that needs to take place is the attitude of teachers and parents towards the socialising tendencies of introverted children. If a child is happy sitting alone during lunch breaks they shouldn’t be forced to socialise on the playground; in Cain’s words, “teachers should avoid setting social standards for what is normal.”. The challenge then is to create a balanced environment without labelling children as absolute introverts/extroverts. It can be argued that these solutions although practical, are difficult to introduce in a realistic school system, especially once a child is in high school. What then could there be an alternative solution?
In terms of providing a more comfortable learning environment for introverted children, home-schooling can offer just this. A stereotypical view of home-schooling is that it provides a social disadvantage. However, after interviewing Mr Greg Shapiro, the founder of K2U learning systems (a maths tutoring organisation based in Dundee KZN), who decided with his wife Mrs Carol Shapiro, to home-school his children, I discovered that this in fact is not true. Shapiro states that home-schooling can be a “lonely option” however in terms of developing a child’s social skills, “what happens in a school environment is that those who are advanced on a social level remain advanced…and those that are introverted remain introverted…It’s very rare that a teacher takes a non-socialising child and slowly develops them into a socialising child.” (Shapiro, 2017). This solution does also have its flaws however, in terms of magnitude. To accomplish one-on-one teaching would require a mass of dedicated persons to teach these children.
The issue of ‘introversion exclusion’ in school environments is one that needs to be addressed urgently. Introverts make up a third of the global population. This means that a third of the population are essentially not being equipped to reach their full potential. Think of all the young Einstein’s and Van Gogh’s not succeeding because of the oppression of the system. The world needs to quieten down and listen, listen to the soft-spoken geniuses who sit in the back of the classroom never raising their hand. And to all you introverts out there, keep them guessing as to what your voice actually sounds like, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.