How Schools Try to Convert Introverts to Extroverts

In this series of posts on introverts, much of the information comes from a wonderful, thought-provoking book by Susan Cain called Quiet. Last time I discussed how you can tell whether your child is an introvert or an extrovert (I forgot to mention there’s a quiz in the book that gives general insight into identifying introverts), but I noted that it can be a bit harder to make that determination about adults.

That’s because many adults are what Ms. Cain calls “closet extroverts”; they’re introverts who have had to work so hard at fitting in that they appear to be extroverts. She notes that:

Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology…Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of feel we must conform.

Much of this oppressive standard is first impressed upon us in school, where extroverted behavior is expected and rewarded. How well I remember this from my own school experience. For example, we were regularly required to read aloud in front of the class. For some kids, this was no big deal. But for many, it was torture. While it did make me nervous, I was fortunate to have been an early reader, so I usually had no problem reading aloud well enough to avoid jeers. But some of my quieter classmates really suffered, and it breaks my heart even today to think of how often they were teased, how they must have dreaded it and how regularly it occurred.

According to Ms. Cain, today’s schools are more extrovert-oriented than ever. Many have done away with desks and individual study, seating children instead at “pods”: group tables that make it easier to do group activities. But group activities are the extrovert’s métier; how much is an introvert really going to learn in an atmosphere of noise and competitive behavior?

In a similar vein, there’s a huge emphasis on competitive sports and team-building, the thought being that today’s workers need to be team players, so why not start young by teaching kids to be team players. Whether working in teams is as productive as it’s cracked up to be is beside the point; the problem is that introverts tend not to be competitive and prefer to work on their own. It hardly seems fair to use these activities to force them to become someone they’re not.

As always, I’m going to take these observations and say that homeschooling wins again. A supportive home environment promotes learning; for the introverted child, it sounds like the ideal situation.

Next week: What of the Extroverted Child?

Comments are closed.