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Quiet

A year or longer ago, I read an article by Susan Cain that was the thesis of her book, Quiet. When I saw it for review at Blogging for Books, I did not hesitate to order it.

It is an interesting read from page one. She offers extensive research, anecdotes, and insight to make the claim that introversion, or being shy, should not be seen as a weakness or fault of character, but as a strength and ability that has provided us with so much over the centuries.

I agree with the author that we in the States, may be living a pathological era of exalting extroverts, and forcing implicitly or explicitly, our children and adults to display social (or what we understand by it), and outgoing and outspoken traits at school, workplace, and any situations that call for interaction.

The book, specially the first part, reminded me much of Endangered Minds, in regards to how both books present extensive research and studies. I believe that, for both authors to defend their points, their observation and experience are very valid ways of drawing conclusions, that their extensive references to studies and research on the topics they address, does not necessarily give their hypothesis or tenets more conviction than that which they already possess after they argue and argument them wisely. Some of the research I find it a bit comical. Of course, I am one of those crazy creationists, but all that part of us, humans, being like we are because our ancestors millions of years ago were hunters, or that paradoxically we kept x or y trait despite of it not being of a help for survival, drawing conclusions and analogies from the behavior of monkeys and our interpretation of it... it truly elicits many grins. As I say, I do not believe they add to the credibility of what it is being presented.

No research is meant to tell us that TV or screen time in excess is bad for children and adults alike much more than any woman who has been for a long day or week with her own children or other children can tell you. No research that observes the brain in expensive studies about behavior is needed to conclude, with Susan Cain, that a good balance of the introverted traits and extroverted traits is desired, and that to completely negate or undermine introverts, is a great loss for any society or any private relationship.

I need to notice a strong disagreement with the author and what she writes on pages 242 and 243 that I will not discuss here.

For the second part of this review, I would like to notice that the last pages of the book were a surprising read to me as a mom who homeschools her two daughters. While the book is not oriented or focused on education, the last part explores what school is for introverted children. From the pen of a woman that does not seem very aware of this phenomenon, (the alternatives she gives to parents whose children do not thrive in schools due to their introversion never contemplate the possibility of educating them at home AT ALL, which was a bit of a surprise to me). As I read the book, I saw many children and grown ups I know in her descriptions, and for some, I thought how wonderful it is that their parents homeschool them, allowing them to bloom and to have their shyness or introversion as a great strength and such a gift at a very early age.

Allow me then, to type some of Susan words in those pages when she analyzes schools. The quote comes after she talks about the painful experience of a girl named Maya, in one of those group activities in her fifth grade class. Maya is describe by her teachers as an intellectually alive student who shines in her essay-writing. She's a gifted softball player. And she's kind to others, offering to tutor other children who lag behind academically. But none of Maya's positive attributes were evident that morning. She was unable to participate, and looked down as stupid.
     The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction from extroverts, write College of Williams and Mary education scholars Jill Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig. And too often, "very little is made available to that learner except constant advice on becoming more social and gregarious."
     We tend to forget that there's nothing sacrosanct about learning in large group classrooms, and that we organize students this way not because it's the best way to learn but because it's cost-efficient, and what else would we do with our children while the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there's nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the prevailing model. The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself.
     The school environment can be highly unnatural, especially from the perspective of an introverted child who loves to work intensely on projects he cares about, and hang out with one or two friends at a time. In the morning, the door to the bus opens and discharges its occupants in a noisy, jostling mass. Academic classes are dominated by group discussions in which a teacher prods him to speak up. He eats lunch in the cacophonous din of the cafeteria, where he has to jockey for a place at a crowded table. Worst of all, there's little time to think or create. The structure of the day is almost guaranteed to sap his energy rather than stimulate it.
     Why do we accept this one-size-fits-all situation as a given when we know perfectly well that adults don't organize themselves this way? We often marvel at how introverted, geeky kids "blossom" into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis. However, maybe it's not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. They don't have to live in whatever culture they're plunked into. Research from a field known as "person-environment fit" shows that people flourish when, in the words of psychologist Brian Little, they're "engaged in occupations, roles or settings that are concordant with their personalities." The inverse is also true: kids stop learning when they feel emotionally threatened. (Pages 253, 254)

Susan Cain is not writing about homeschooling, she does not seem to know much about it, it is not mentioned. It is her candid and witty criticism of schools. She is defending with all her might and brain, those people like her, introverts. Not just to be the introvert redeemer, but for the sake of everyone, for the sake of each society, business, and ultimately family. It is about time we pay attention to this trait many of us around us possess in their character, a potential asset and gift ready to be acknowledge, fostered, and admired.

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