Is It Helpful for Introverts to Be Forced to Talk in Class?

400px-Henderson_Family_Day_Arm_2007Recently an article on GeekDad cued me in to a debate about whether or not introverted or shy (two different things) students should be forced to talk in class.

The author of the GeekDad article, Jenny Williams, shared the following personal note:

I learn best when I can observe for a while, and then try my hand at something in private, without an often-judgmental audience. Forcing me to verbally participate before I am ready not only is fruitless, it is counter productive. It ensures that I’ll never be ready. There are countless others out there like me.

As an introvert myself, it was interesting to read this perspective. So I looked for the source article on The Washington Post by Valerie Strauss, which offers a number of counterarguments to a different article  from The Atlantic Monthly positing that introverts should be required to speak in class. Strauss says several times that more important than forcing students to participate is that educators seek to better understand how different students work.

I can certainly appreciate that idea. But Strauss didn’t address the key point of the article she was opposing, which was:

Lahey [the other author] claims that she wants to prepare her students for the future where verbal participation is critical for their success.

Strauss’s response to that is more of the same (“I suggest instead that we rethink how we understand students’ silences.”) But…that’s not really addressing the point. Is it helpful in the long run for introverts to be called on in class? To learn to offer some kind of answer, even if it takes them longer to process their thoughts? As an assistant professor notes in the Atlantic article, in real life “you don’t get a pass for your personality type.”

As an introvert who can completely relate to what Williams and Strauss are saying, I think I actually agree with Lahey. When I was in school, it wasn’t in my nature to think on my feet. I wasn’t one to raise my hand much or volunteer to speak in front of class.

Of course, that didn’t stop teachers from calling on me, just like any other student. And I feel like it was really important for my development. There was a pretty good chunk of my life where I wasn’t at all scared of public speaking. That’s something that has manifested in adulthood–perhaps not so coincidentally when I’ve been out of the daily grasp of teachers who might call on me.

Williams and Strauss share the belief that every student is different. Rather than force students to conform to the same standards of participation, they say, perhaps it’s better for some students to be left alone.

I don’t completely disagree, but overall I think that introverted and shy students benefit in the long run if they’re called upon by compassionate teachers. Being bullied by a teacher to speak up is different than having a teacher call on you from time to time instead of letting you sit in the corner and compose interesting thoughts in your head that your classmates never have the benefit of hearing.

What do you think? I’m particularly curious to hear what fellow introverts think, or teachers and parents.

2 thoughts on “Is It Helpful for Introverts to Be Forced to Talk in Class?”

  1. If you haven’t yet, you should check out Susan Cain and her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”.


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