Susan Cain's new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, argues that the current fascination with group-work and charismatic leadership is both a historical phenomenon and one that ought to be viewed with some suspicion.
This is particularly the case for educators, who, if they take Cain's work seriously, now must balance the benefit of active learning (which often draws on group work and values outgoing-ness) with the knowledge that such forms of learning have a politics to them--one that values extroversion over introversion.
It would be a mistake to think that old modes of learning--the lecture, the multiple-choice exam, etc.--were better for introverts than is active learning. But it would also be a mistake to think that active learning, as is typically done, works for introverts.
Instead, teachers and learners alike ought to be paying much more attention to deepening the reflective and contemplative component of learning, for introverts and extroverts alike. Reflection as is currently practiced in higher education is hardly reflective at all. Writing an essay after service-learning that explains what you learned is no more reflective than writing a book review. And that act hardly sustains the contemplative practices that lead both to learning and to a deeper sense of how one fits in the world.
For reflection to be meaningful, it must be regular, habitual, and tied to a philosophy of living well in the world. These things were once a part of some types of colleges and universities. Today they rarely are part of the core of the educational experience. Some students experience such things, it is true. But most students do not.
So Cain's book ought to remind us that reflection is more than an assignment at the end of a class. It is a way of being in the world, one that is good for one's health, and better for the health of our societies.
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