Susan Cain’s powerful TED talk on The Power of Introverts left me little choice but to write this post. Susan’s impassioned pleas to just leave introverts alone and let them think included taking educators to task for forcing students to cooperate and collaborate in areas such as math and writing where surely they would do better on their own. After all, Cain states, “Introverts are actually better students than extroverts.” Cain also acknowledges, however, that students do need to “learn to work together” and throws a small bone at the need for global collaboration to solve our world’s over-complicated problems.
Can we as educators, then, be confident in our impact on students at all points on the “vert” spectrum if we deftly balance independent and group modes of work, and if we provide ample but not overwhelming opportunities for speaking in front of an audience? Is this enough to encourage kids to grow into the space on the other side(s) of the spectrum from where they feel most comfortable?
This may have been enough, or at least the best we could do, 15 years ago before the invention of social media, but I feel that Cain has missed a critical development in our society: the culture our younger generations are creating with social media tools.
The explosion of social media has many explanations, but one of these that is frequently cited is the lowering of social inhibitions that these tools facilitate.
For better or for worse and for a variety of reasons, people say things they wouldn’t normally say to people they wouldn’t normally talk to on these sites. In the classroom, savvy teachers have learned to bring out the best of this behavior.
In a May 2011 NY Times article Trip Gabriel documents how students using social technologies such as backchannels feel more comfortable sharing in class.
Ultimately blog posts, tweets, and video sharing may provide safe ground for introverts to participate in more social learning opportunities without the anxiety felt in face-to-face situations. That said, could we now say that we as educators face a moral obligation to provide this type of outlet for all of our students? If extroverts have been, as Cain describes them, “the darlings of modern culture”, isn’t it time we give introverts their say?