Introverts, Unite! Stop Calling Us Shy!

I immediately clicked on Jessica Lahey’s article “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School” because I am both a teacher and an introvert. As far as the headline goes, I agree with Lahey’s argument as well as her premise—that the outside world demands dialogue and discussion, and educators who coddle children and never require them to speak ultimately do the children a disservice.

However, I take issue with many of the claims Lahey uses to support that overall argument. For instance, she writes:

When it comes time to assess my students’ engagement with these questions, I could quiz them daily and force them to write reams about the topics I want them to consider. Or I can ask them to open their mouths, turn on their brains, and share their ideas with the rest of the class. I opt for a happy medium, and require a little bit of both.

She correlates “opening their mouths” with “turn[ing] on their brains,” as if writing itself required no thought. She also admits what I see as a problem with some extraverted communication as well, though she doesn’t seem to see it as problematic, i.e., where people open their mouths first and think later. I also find it odd that her portrayal of writing as forced production of “reams” seems so negative when she is, after all, an English teacher. Me too. I often use a balance of writing and discussion in my classes so that there are multiple means of assessment—Lahey seems to do the same—but I value writing itself as a method of learning that is at least as valuable as speech. Writing ought not to be taught or viewed as spewing out half-hashed ideas, but, then again, I don’t think productive discussions do that either.

I see no problem with Lahey’s class participation component, but her argument is flawed in that she’s basing it on social anxiety, which isn’t the same thing as introversion. I’m not afraid to share my ideas. I simply process them internally before I say them out loud. That sometimes puts me at a disadvantage because I’m rarely the loudest or the first to speak, but what we introverts might lack in spontaneity, we make up for in thoughtfulness. In the end, introverts and extraverts need to learn from each other a balance of listening and speaking, contemplation and action. Unfortunately, I don’t feel terribly confident that Lahey has gleaned that message the way she claims to.

Photo by Malate269.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • http://www.theretuned.com Matthew Linder

    This: “I’m not afraid to share my ideas. I simply process them internally before I say them out loud. That sometimes puts me at a disadvantage because I’m rarely the loudest or the first to speak, but what we introverts might lack in spontaneity, we make up for in thoughtfulness.” Erin, that’s exactly how I operate.

  • http://thepajamachef.com Sarah

    Yes, I completely agree. I’m introverted, I rarely think before speaking, but that does not mean I’m not thinking or am scared to share my thoughts. I just always prepare. I always appreciated the teachers who did not immediately call on the extroverted students in class but made everyone pause before calling on someone. Of course, this is more common later on in education (college, or even grad school) but I did see it some growing up too.


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