Are Schools Neglecting Introverts?
A concern with quiet students' well-being should not push us back to outdated educational models.
In a widely read article this fall at The Atlantic, Michael Godsey laments the “focus on group work and collaboration” currently in vogue in public schools. By increasingly pushing students to work together, schools are “neglecting the needs of students who work better in quiet settings,” he argues. They are, the title proposes, “overlooking introverts.”
As both an introvert and a teacher who often organizes classroom discussions, debates, and other interactive experiences for my students, I read this article with interest. Am I doing a disservice to my introverted students by forcing them out of a shell in which they do their best learning? Godsey writes that “education buzzwords ... embrace extroverted behavior” that can “undermine the learning of students who are inward-thinking and easily drained by constant interactions with others.” He suggests that group-based learning “enables noisy, distracting conditions that make learning particularly difficult for certain students.”
Godsey acknowledges that collaborative learning doesn’t inherently alienate quieter students. “[E]xcessively social or overstimulating mandates” need not be part of the pedagogy, he writes; “quiet components that facilitate internal contemplation” can be used as well. The article quickly sets this nuance aside, though, and ends on a disappointing note. Godsey observes, with evident approval, that of the four classrooms he saw during a school visit where students were “seated individually in rows,” three were AP or honors courses. Seating kids the old-fashioned way in more rigorous courses suggests, he seems to say, that collaborative learning is no sure pathway to true intellectual development. The ducks-in-a-row model more closely “resembl[es] ... university classes,” he writes.
There are two important mistakes lurking here. The first is reacting to legitimate concerns about noisy classrooms geared to extroverts by pining for the old days when teachers lectured to captive audiences of silent, note-taking pupils. All the evidence shows that students learn best when they are doing something, not just listening to a teacher at the front of the classroom. The executive director of Harvard’s Bok center notes that “active learning ... is the most effective” mode of instruction, hands down. Second, it’s wrong to assume that higher education is permanently stuck in lecture mode. A Harvard Magazine article, “Twilight of the Lecture,” notes that “scores of Harvard faculty members are experimenting with innovative styles of teaching,” finding that students often learn next to nothing by sitting through traditional lecture classes. So while it’s a great idea to consider how introverts are faring in the new educational environment, a reactionary response that pushes right back to outdated models is not the wise course.
A good education is, in part, an interactive experience. Anyone can pick up facts from a Wikipedia entry glowing at you from a laptop screen, and individuals can sometimes have transcendent experiences alone in a room, or on a beach, or in a subway car, knee-deep in a great book. But working together on an intellectual problem or discussing various interpretations of the nuances of a complex text offer opportunities for deeper, wider-ranging engagement with ideas. Godsey closes by citing “[Jean-Paul] Sartre’s famous line, ‘Hell is other people’” — an odd choice of sentiment for an essay on education. Whatever school is, it isn’t a forum for misanthropy or hermeticism.
I suspect that Godsey’s small sample of the American educational scene — he visited one school in California — is not fully reflective of the reality of public schools in this country. My daughters’ experiences in three public schools in Brooklyn (just as anecdotal as Godsey’s evidence, I admit) do not bear out the straw-man depiction of classrooms as boisterous havens for constant group work bathed in oppressive fluorescent light. (OK, most classrooms do have bad lighting, but that has nothing to do with pedagogy, as Godsey oddly suggests.) My kids say that their teachers spend about half of a class period on direct instruction, while students work in groups or on independent projects for the other half. I’d say that balance sounds about right.
In my own classes, drawing on Bard College’s “language and thinking” tradition, I often ask students to begin by writing silently in response to a prompt designed to elicit an analytical or critical take on a selection from the previous night’s reading. Students may then read their responses to a neighbor or two before a class-wide discussion begins. (This video gives you a taste of how it works.) I find the structure of the activity works well for introverts who otherwise may feel reticent to volunteer their ideas in a large group. It gives them an opportunity to participate in a quiet, low-stakes setting. The point is not to break introverts out of their shells, but to give them a chance to engage with other young scholars — and to develop themselves in ways that will prepare them for collaborative efforts in future studies and work — on terms that are comfortable and meaningful.
Steven V. Mazie is Professor of Political Studies at Bard High School Early College-Manhattan and Supreme Court correspondent for The Economist. He holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan. He is author, most recently, of American Justice 2015: The Dramatic Tenth Term of the Roberts Court.
Image credit: shutterstock.com
Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.
- Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
- Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
- The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.