January 2013 Archives

 Susan Cain's book QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking is an important study of the reflective, humble individuals who make up at least one-third of the general population (and very likely a larger portion of the Quaker population). Casting off the burdens of terms like "shy" and "socially anxious" and "isolating" - often used to label children as well as adults - she instead frames those of us who fall into the "introversive" personality temperament (first outlined by Carl Jung) as promoters of "soft power" through careful listening, intense solo thinking, and deep reflection. Citing a list of introverts who have changed history - from Moses to Isaac Newton, Eleanor Roosevelt to Rosa Parks, Mohandas Gandhi to van Gogh - Cain suggests that the "extrovert ideal" often seen in American culture - outgoing, talkative, "people people" - doesn't do so well without the steadying influence of the "quiet people" who are hard at work bringing their rich inner landscapes and brilliant creative constructs into the reality of the world.   

How do schools make life difficult for introvert children?

1)     by over-emphasizing the value of group projects and cooperative learning;
2)      by failing to distinguish between children who want to be "alone" (and are content with
      the richness of their inner experience) and children who are "lonely" (and crave social
      acceptance but lack the tools to receive it);
by valuing "discussion for discussion's sake" over periods of silent reflection while
      someone might formulate something truly valuable to contribute
4)     by using labels like "shy" and "socially awkward" when describing student behavior
      in school.

Quaker education seems ideally suited to provide the space - physical, emotional, and spiritual - for introverts to flourish without judgment. Meting for Worship, a moment of silence, Quaker business practice, and the value of truthful plain speech all speak to the needs of introverts as oases in a world of constant chatter. Nonetheless, in our attempts to be "progressive" and "academic" we must be careful not to overlook the quiet student who may need a variety of other outlets (journaling, one-on-one conversations, solo independent projects, and the like) to truly express their talents.  

It takes all types to make a world!

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