I’m just finishing Susan Cain’s recent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking It’s a fascinating read that, in part, reflects on a narrative shift that has taken place in North America—a shift that has taken us from valuing character to idolizing personality. In particular, Cain claims that our North American culture really makes more room for extroverts than it does for introverts.
If you’re familiar with Carl Jung’s ideas around personality, you’ll know that the difference between the introvert and the extrovert really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with whether or not one is shy or outgoing. Instead the terms refer mainly to energy, specifically psychic energy. As Jung’s ideas are currently understood, an introvert enjoys and appreciates time spent alone or in small groups with trusted friends. This is when they are at their most creative, reflective and productive. This is the context where they get re-energized. Extroverts, on the other hand, find a great deal of pleasure working and playing in larger groups. This is the context where they are most “alive”, and this is the context where they get their energy replenished.
Ok, so it’s more complicated than that, but that is the kernel that is most often used to differentiate between the two. And it’s this kernel that has been bouncing around in my head as I’ve read Cain’s book. One of the important messages in Quiet—the one that sings loudest in the 20 minute video clip below—is that many of our major institutions are really designed with extroverts in mind. If Cain is right in estimating that anywhere from one third to one half of any given population is made up of introverts, then we might have an issue that is worth addressing.
In terms of schools, there is evidence that Cain could be on to something. Think of the emphasis that we place on group work, collaboration and the way that our hats are tipped to those that are outgoing. Think of the structure of our schools and classrooms: the physical layout, the way that time is divided—the space and the pace of the average school.
I’m going to leave you with 20 minutes of Susan Cain, herself an introvert, talking about the roots of her work, as well as giving sounding a call to action. And then I invite you to return to tell your stories and think out loud about whether there might be something to look at here when it comes to differentiation and meeting the needs of all students.
There’s lots to explore about the distinction between introverts and extroverts—including the understanding that most of us have some of each temperament included in our personality—but I’ll use this as a starting point.
As always, feel free to weigh in on this or anything else that strikes you as important.