Barrett: Education system must accommodate introverts

Group posters, group papers, group compositions – oh my! The Geneseo faculty has swamped my first semester with work that requires me to play well with others in an attempt to cater to the rising trend of a perceived need for extroverted leadership in society.

Team-building exercises and cooperative efforts are the new face of the educational system, not just here at Geneseo, but all over America. Introverts, who make up a full third to one half of the population, get lost in this system.

Introversion is all about how you respond to social stimuli. Introverts feel more alive in low-key and quiet environments, whereas extroverts thrive in loud and busy environments. According to Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, the vast majority of professors and teachers see the ideal student as an extrovert, even though introverts statistically get higher grades and are more knowledgeable – perhaps because of their shared preferred pastime of reading.

Despite this, professors praise extroverts for being outgoing and social, interactive team thinkers, and the quiet introverts become part of the white noise in the background of the classroom environment. To stand out you need to be bold and assertive, to participate in class discussions and take an active role during group project planning sessions. In neglecting introverts, and then punishing them for being the calm, contemplative people they are through in-class participation grades, we are pushing a third or more of our student population become unwilling extroverts or fail.

I’d like to say that I’m not wholly against group work – I’m against the ridiculously extravagant, nearly constant group work that I, and other, introverts are subjected to. It is important to learn to cooperate and work in teams, even occasionally in high pressure situations where there isn’t time for an introvert to go off by his or herself and think before coming back to share with the group. But the educational system has taken group work, and with it the confidence introverts have in their leadership abilities and learning style, and ran with it.

Twenty people writing a single six-page paper? It is no wonder we are making introverts so uncomfortable – there seems to be no place for introversion in the educational system anymore. The underlying message is that introversion is an unwanted personality flaw that will not serve you well in the adult world and that it needs to be stamped out by excessive amounts of groupthink.

The fact is that introversion is incredibly important. The trend towards increasing amounts of disproportionately large group projects needs to be stopped. Extroversion is not the way of the future, despite what many of the professors here might believe.

Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt identified themselves as introverts and were fantastic leaders. Introverts can sometimes – though not in all situations – be better leaders than extroverts because they are much more likely to listen to the ideas of others, instead of getting so excited about their own, and are less likely to take extreme risks.

Much like standardized tests put abstract, creative thinkers in a bad light, so too does the new attitude of groupthink put introversion in a bad light. The educational system needs to break away from the trend towards turning us all into extroverts to allow introverted thinkers to grow into their own natural leadership abilities, and provide society with the diversity in leadership we require.