A World for Loud People
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (2012), Susan Cain states that western culture promotes extroversion as a universal ideal while negating the worth of introversion. The author defines introversion as a preference for less stimulating environments, based on the idea that the introvert character tends to be more sensitive. According to her research, between one-third to one-half of Americans can be classified as introverts, and in a world that promotes multi-tasking and cooperative environments, this extrovert ideal takes away a lot of the potential that society offers.
Life in schools
What does this have to do with education? Well, if we assume that education, formal schooling, reproduces social values, it is possible to think that maybe the western public system promotes extrovert values in our schools.
According to Cedric Cullingford, the physical organizational dispositions of school promote spaces for waiting with others. In The Inner World of the School: Children’s Ideas About Schools (1991), the author asked the students about their feelings and perceptions of schools. They described the halls, classrooms, and hallways as crowded spaces where a teacher or a bell indicated when to go where. The architectonic structures of our schools promote an extrovert disposition of spaces, where being alone is not allowed.
Philip Jackson, in his famous book Life in Classrooms (1968), talks about the importance of crowds: “the crowds, the praise, and the power that combine to give a distinctive flavor to classroom life collectively form a hidden curriculum” (p. 33). It is part of our system, of the hidden unconscious part of the structures that organize schooling: crowd management is a daily part of our lives in schools.
Acknowledging the quiet ones
Schools have changed a lot since Jackson’s research. However, Cain points out a very important factor if we want to include social justice goals in our educational agenda: it is essential to acknowledge those who do not represent the socially accepted stereotype, it is important to value different ways to succeed.
Introversion is not an issue that should be treated, introversion is a personality trait that needs to find a space in school in order to be equally developed. If the library is the only space for those who need a quiet time to recharge batteries, there is a clear difference established in an educational system filled with crowded fields, corridors, and classroom. As teachers and educational leaders we should encourage quiet personal time as much as we institutionally promote competition and socialization.