Reading this article this morning about a teacher — admittedly extrovert — claiming she does her students all a service by forcing class participation riled me up a bit. Read it, then come back.
What Lahey does, and what the commenters point out, is equate social anxiety and shyness with introversion. But those are entirely different worlds and spheres.
This past summer, I did a presentation with Jackie Parker at ALA Annual on passive programming in libraries. Something that was crucial for me to bring up in the discussion was how passive programming and passive readers advisory are easy ins for patrons who are quieter. Who take in their stimulation and their worlds differently, through much more internal and self-reflective means. These are the people who aren’t going to shout from the rooftops what it is they want or what it is they need from the places they’re a part of. Passive programming and passive reader’s advisory are means of reaching that demographic.
I’m an introvert. A big introvert. I took a pass in all those classes where participation was a graded component. It’s not how I learn, it’s not how I function well, and if anything, it drained me and ruined educational experiences for me. Those classes where I was called on randomly filled me with not only anger but fear. And it’s not that I am shy or afraid to speak up — I can do both just fine — but rather, I can’t learn or think like that.
I live and I function internally, with an eye toward how any and everything applies to something in myself or in my own world. It’s not a selfish world view, though. It’s taking the things I’m learning and making them applicable.
Lahey’s idea that forcing introverts to conform to the extrovert way devalues the very means by which introverts learn and apply their knowledge. It tells them they’re not good enough because they’re not loud enough and because they’re not loud enough, they’re somehow failures.
But that’s not true.
I’m thinking about how Lahey’s class works. Does she allow students to read and reflect in their own right? Are students given an option to write their thoughts out in essay form as a means of earning credit or as proof of thought? Because if the mindset is that louder is better and that talking and speaking out verbally is the means of getting ahead, then there’s something to be said about her failing to recognize the value in the internal process and mechanics of learning. More than that, it forces her students — both introverts and extroverts — to take a shallow approach to the world through immediate action and reaction. It doesn’t allow for the slow burn of knowledge to occur for either those who need that or those who may benefit from it.
It privileges the loud in a world which already does so. And that’s not to say there is anything wrong with extroversion — there absolutely is not — but it is to say that it puts further pressure on people who think and take in the world differently to conform. By conforming, they’re giving up a huge piece of themselves and the huge piece of what it is that makes them as they are. It tells introverts that the way they see and interpret the world is wrong and in this particular instance, Lahey is telling these students that they will never succeed in life if they don’t suck it up and conform.
I value quiet time in my head. I need reflection space. It’s how I get from point A to point B. Were I forced to do differently, I’d be crippled.
Introversion is why I blog. This is my space to think about the things I’ve read and the things I’ve seen. It’s my way of processing the world around me and applying it to my own life. Introversion doesn’t make me non-social — in fact, I’d say the opposite. In being aware of my introversion and in being nurturing of my own needs, I’ve developed better social relationships because I know what it is I need from them and what it is I have to give to them. It’s made me keen on how much I need to speak out and when and how to do it.
The take away here is this: respect the ways everyone takes in their world. Offer options. Don’t force conformity because it only devalues the individual. It further privileges those who are already in the privileged class. And in this instance, I do think extroverts are in a more privileged class because their outspoken, socially-fueled natures (which again, is not a knock on them in the least) mean that their voices are heard more readily and more often.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).