It’s Socratic Seminar day in my English class, and, incidentally, my worst nightmare.
The desks are arranged in a circle to better facilitate the group discussion, and the classroom is abuzz with the voices of my classmates, all piping up with their penetrating insights on the themes and symbolism of our assigned reading. Strangely absent from the discourse? Me.
Somebody far more articulate than I shares her observations on a recurring motif in the novel. I look into the notes I scrawled into my copy of “Pride and Prejudice” and find that I had produced a compelling counter-argument, replete with a gold mine of page numbers and textual evidence to use as support. Do I speak up? Do I regale the class with my literary prowess? Do I dare disturb the universe?
No, no and no.
Whoops, time’s up! I have gone the entire hour without so much as mumbling a word. In my head, I feel a pang of disappointment, which is only exacerbated when I check Pinnacle that night and discover that my class participation grade has plummeted.
If you can relate, odds are you, too, belong to the 40 percent of the U.S. population that identifies as shy, a state of inhibition faced when talking to new people or being plunked into unfamiliar situations.
This is not to be confused with introversion, a personality trait in which a person recharges by himself rather than with other people. There are plenty of introverts who are not shy, but I happen to embody both characteristics. And it’s become increasingly apparent to me that I typify the exact opposite of the bold, brash, extroverted ideal sanctified by American culture.
Shy introverts like me occupy one of the lowest rungs on the social desirability hierarchy, presumably above only psychopaths and people with really strong B.O.
As if it wasn’t enough that society’s inherent aversion to the quiet was codified into every social sphere, this prejudice is starting to seep into the educational system. Group work is held to the highest esteem in the classroom, with Socratic Seminars reigning as a beacon of group collaboration and exchange of ideas. Participation points are doled out as the supposedly “easy” grades, only to have an adverse effect on shy students’ academics and self-esteem.
Teachers are well intentioned in their actions, of course. But too often they fail to realize they are alienating the more quietly inclined students by subjecting them to activities that are oriented toward more vocal students.
Likely, many of these teachers will contend that they are preparing students for a world that is not as forgiving to people who struggle to find their voice, and that these exercises prepare those students to be part of a work force where extroversion is nearly always a prerequisite.
But they’re wrong. Introverts can carve out a niche for themselves in the world, even if they have come to terms with their limitations.
I know that I have no business in a boardroom, that I should steer clear of a career in litigation. By forcing introverts to “fake it until they make it,” teachers are doing students a disservice by forcing them to change something that is inherent to their nature.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that my shyness is as unshakeable as a second skin. But there is no reason for my education to be assessed not by the quality of my ideas, but how loudly I am able to express them.