Attack of the Extroverts!

“Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School”; The Atlantic; Feb 2013

                     This article is interesting, but I get a little nervous when it looks like we are going to assess students utilizing a generalized personality trait.  And perhaps, “assessment” is the beginning of the problem. And then there is the measuring tool (and the one doing the measuring,the teacher is after all, an extrovert); is there a grading scale that is consistent? Is there such a thing as “almost introverted”, or “75% extroverted”? It would seem (no matter the scale) that once we define “introvertism” as bad and “extrovertism” as good; the game is essentially over. There may be many reasons (short and long term) that will dictate the level of children “outgoingness”; (is this situational, developmental or personality type?).  And if we were a culture that valued quiet reflection over loud presentations, we might very well ask: “Why won’t these extroverted kids be more quietly contemplative?” Schools exist in, and are not independent of a larger culture.  As much as we educators like to think that we are “in charge” of education; we are in fact (and schools were created for this fact); planters and nurturers of the values of the larger societal culture (oh, I’m sorry you thought you were hired to “educate” children; you were; but you are also charged with infusing them with the values of our society; don’t worry all societies do the same thing!) The fact is that “extrovertism” is highly valued in a society where everyone must transform themselves at some point into some type of human commercial (It’s not enough to be talented; you must also be able to “sell yourself”). The key is, to the extent possible make schools comfortable places for different types of personalities, with the understanding that socialization and cooperative working/learning are part of schools learning objectives; and so should be the practice of quiet reflection.  I am not suggesting that we have a Sen. Todd Akin version of Biology; and then the rest of the planet’s conceptual view of Biological principles. I am speaking here of learning styles and personality traits not conceptual leaning objective.  I first became uneasy many years ago when I noticed that some educators (reading Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory incorrectly) were confusing interpersonal intelligence with ‘extrovertism’. I would think that it would help the “interpersonally” inclined to be somewhat extroverted; but the gift is in how you employ it. I have met what appeared to be a lot of extroverted politicians over the years; but I can’t think of anyone who could match the Interpersonal genius of Bill Clinton.  I met him the year he visited Community School District 29; and we had a discussion, and then I met him again two years later; and amazingly, he just picked up and continued our discussion where we left it; even as a seasoned educator I was stunned to see that level of intelligence in action.  I tried to imagine all of the thousands and thousands of discussions he must have had as president in two years. On the other hand, I have met some “back-slapping” extroverted politicians who don’t remember a thing you told them the minute they walked away!  Interpersonal intelligence and “extrovertism” are absolutely different! Interpersonal intelligence is different and, at the same time “equal” to Interpersonal intelligence. One is not more “intelligent” then the other. And so if we are rating children on either being less “interpersonally” intelligent or less extroverted, both would be wrong. First, it ignores the reality that developmental psychological stages don’t occur in a perfectly predictable way; i.e. all 2nd or 4th graders are not emotionally in the same place, at the same time. (It may be something as small as having a birthday in February, as opposed to August, or as a baby having a very “talkative” mommy and daddy).  And anyone who works in middle school, you know that development stages can be very dynamic, and can change; hour to hour, day to day. I am also a little nervous about how we interpret or misinterpret different cultural-linguistic world views. A child for whom English is a second language may in fact be brilliant in her silence, as she is “processing” the language (including idioms) and the conceptual learning objective simultaneously; but this may not be conducive to, or even measured by the “speed round” hand raising format. Analyzing the volume level of the “me, me” student; utilizing the speed and the rate of occurrence of “hand raising” as a measure of “intelligence”, would ignore students who are more contemplative; or who are mentally exploring other possibilities related to the question at hand. Perhaps the student who is not “speaking out” is a visual-spatial learner and is taking this time to mentally design-redesign the problem in his head; or maybe the student is culturally socialized to not be pushy in a “low stakes” situation.  The last problem is that I suspect (based on observation) that most teachers are “extrovertedly” inclined; if that is true, care must be taken when defining “the norm”.   I have always tried to get teachers to be aware that they are very much a part of the “multiple intelligence” world; the key then is to teach with your strongest intelligence but not solely to your strongest intelligence; as the students are bringing their own individual inclinations to intelligence into the classroom.  That is why a good lesson will always contain a multiple intelligence methodology. But let us also be careful that we don’t cut off and stifle learning for children who don’t necessarily share our take on the world. And by all means let us not rank them on personality traits. On the question of “extrovertism” vs. “introvertism” I want to offer two other very interesting views from books I recently read:

 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking; Susan Cain

The Introverted Leader: Building On Your Quiet Strength; Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, PhD