Christina Torres taught in the 2009 Los Angeles corps.
A recent study establishing a positive correlation between students who are popular in high school and the amount of money they make later in life feels like salt in a long-standing wound. Aren’t we quiet warriors, the ones who occasionally preferred to spend Friday night with a book rather than at a party, supposed to be the ones who get the last laugh?
Susan Cain, in her TED talk “The Power of Introverts,” notes that throughout the 20th century, “we entered a new culture that historians call the culture of personality…we had evolved [from] an agricultural economy to a world of big business… so, quite understandably, qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important.”
Today’s society sees a value-add in someone who can talk the talk and get others to walk the walk with them. As long as we live in a world where there are things to be sold, those are traits that can have a positive effect.
But, as Cain astutely points out, “there's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” It was introverts such as Gandhi, Lincoln, George Orwell, Sir Issac Newton, and Albert Einstein who went off and quietly thought about the world around them. Though quiet, their opinions were valued because people saw they had a great gift to give.
What we need, then, is to challenge the relative value society places on more extroverted personality traits. What we need is a quiet revolution.
We urgently need to see a shift in how this looks in the classroom. As Cain notes, students who are quiet are often seen as problem cases, and we push them, perhaps unfairly, to give up their introvert tendencies be more assertive in groups.
From my experiences in the classroom, I know that there was a premium placed on lessons with “collaborative” learning and trying to have my students work in small groups and as a whole class.
To drive the point home further, a friend, fellow introvert, and eventual astrophysicist remembers an 8th grade math teacher who made him feel bad about his quiet habits:
I was in a new place with my new stepfamily and feeling very insecure...and my 8th grade math teacher picked up on that, and found ways to make me feel even worse… [saying things like]"Why do you write so small? What's wrong with you? Are you introverted or something?"… I was almost too petrified sometimes to go to class… I spent a couple years thinking I was dumb, no good at math, and not trying all that hard to do much better at anything.
What Cain’s Ted Talk and stories like my friend’s demonstrate is that we need to start creating a world where everyone can work in the way that will bring out the best in them. Just as we have learned to talk in group meetings and work collaboratively, extroverts might have something to learn from sitting in a quiet place and letting their minds roam the galaxies of their imaginations.
As educators, we constantly seek to create classroom environments that celebrate, appreciate, or at least accommodate differences. Maybe it’s time we take that a step further and start creating learning routines and structures that value the different types of brilliant minds—quiet and all—that are in our classrooms too.
Christina Torres is a Teach For America alumna-turned-staff, writer, runner, reader, actress, dancer moving (even further) west to (try and help) change the world. She holds an M.A. in Urban Education (Digital Learning) from Loyola Marymount University and a B.A. in English from University of Southern California. She taught in the 2009 Los Angeles corps.