Picture the ideal Leesville student: He or she would not only be intelligent but also charismatic, holding many leadership positions in clubs and other organizations. He or she would be an athlete, too. He or she would be the center of his or her large group of friends, always hanging out together and posting their experiences on social media. And of course, he or she would have the most school spirit, attending every football game and, come senior year, leading the student section.
Just like there is an image of a perfect Leesville student, author Susan Cain argues in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking that our society has internalized an ideal citizen of North America and Europe.
According to Cain, the model person would be charismatic and outgoing, always networking and establishing new connections; people would flock to him or her, look to him or her for guidance, and seek to converse with him or her. And, of course, this person would also be a hard-working, risk-taking entrepreneur, always relying on his or her gut. How else would he or she accomplish the American dream of rising to the top of American society through his or her grit and intuition and well-established relationships?
What do the ideal Leesville student and the perfect citizen of North America or Europe have in common? They both exhibit the qualities of extroverts. In a nutshell, extroverts draw energy from social interaction, and introverts draw energy from within themselves. Thus, extroverts tend to be more social and outgoing than introverts.
This infographic further details differences between introverts and extroverts by highlighting misconceptions about introverts.
Looking back at my first example, that Leesville student is undoubtedly an extrovert: He or she always interacts with his or her peers, whether as the leader of a club, at a school sporting event, or just hanging out with his or her large friend group. And my second example is an extrovert, too, always networking and never shying away from risks (extroverts tend to make impulsive, risky decisions while introverts prefer to carefully think about their actions before implementing them).
Cain calls the expectation of extroversion in our society the “extrovert ideal.” It has permeated all aspects of American society, even public high schools like Leesville. Let’s take a look at to what degree the Leesville experience both inside and outside the classroom is more conducive to students with extroverted personalities than those with introverted personalities.
Inside the Classroom
Group assignments: you either love them or hate them. These types of assignments provide an advantage to extroverted students since extroverts draw energy from the cooperation that group projects demand, and introverts do not.
In fact, group work may not only harm introverts but also the other people involved in the project. Many teachers assign group assignments in the hopes that students working together generate more innovative ideas than students working alone; however, according to research that Susan Cain describes in Quiet, individuals working alone are often more productive and produce more creative ideas than groups.
Additionally, a group situation promotes groupthink, which, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.” Basically, it means that people working in a group would rather conform to the group’s consensus—even if it’s incorrect—rather than present their own misgivings about the decision or their own ideas.
The alternative to group work is individual work. It is more suited to introverts and, as I mentioned earlier, promotes more creativity. Furthermore, working independently on a project fosters mastery of a skill.
In my experience at Leesville, teachers balance the two types of assignments. Group work is necessary at times (after all, we need to learn how to collaborate as our futures will demand it), so practicing it in school is not a bad idea. The issue that I take with group work is that it is often forced; I always appreciate it when teachers give an option of working independently or in a group, which caters to both introverts and extroverts.
Another type of assignment that may not appeal to introverts, especially if they are shy, are assignments that involve oral presentations. Like with group projects, verbal communication is an essential part of the human experience; nevertheless, many introverts (and extroverts) at Leesville are very shy, some even to the point of social anxiety disorder. Don’t get me wrong; introverts can be great oral speakers, but not all will be.
Some of my teachers in the past have offered alternative forms of presenting, such as recording yourself beforehand and having the teacher play the video. This strategy may help some students, especially those with social anxiety disorder, but it also could single them out and reveal their fears to the class.
When it comes to the classroom, presenting options—some that appeal to extroverts and some that appeal to introverts—is essential and, from my experience, has become a common practice at Leesville.
Outside the Classroom
A large public high school like Leesville presents a challenging environment for introverts. Between classes, students pack the hallways like sardines in a can; popular lunch spots on campus are so loud that you need to shout when talking with your friends; at football games and other sporting events, your screaming classmates surround you.
As an introvert, it’s difficult to find an escape from the crowds and the madness. If you don’t find time to recharge during the busy day, you may feel overwhelmed going into fourth period. For juniors and seniors, it’s easy to avoid the chaos—leave campus for lunch. For students remaining on campus, two places that tend to be quieter than the rest of the school include a teacher’s classroom and the media center.
I have noticed that many students congregate in large groups of friends during school and outside of school. Leesville students view it as a source of pride, a source of popularity, to have a sizable friend group; they value the charismatic, personable student who appears to be friends with everyone and is always easy to get along with. This student exhibits an extroverted personality.
Introverts, on the other hand, prefer to have one or two close friendships in favor of expansive social networks. They may not lead the exciting social lives of extroverts, but they do not suffer from social isolation, either.
In their free time, introverts generally prefer solitary activities such as reading or watching Netflix. This time alone helps them to recharge from a long school day of countless interactions with other students. The social life of a stereotypically extroverted teenager involves parties and athletic events, both of which appeal more to extroverts than introverts. An introvert who does not feel up to attending a party may eschew the invitation at the risk of appearing “antisocial” to extroverted peers. Teenagers, including Leesville students, are judgemental, and I wish that choosing not to lead a “traditional” social life in high school did not open any doors for critique.
Through my experiences, I have realized that the key to leading a rewarding social life as an introvert is to find friends who appreciate your wants and needs; friends who would understand if you turned down an invitation to hang out in favor of spending time alone. No, you would not lead a “traditional” high school social life, but that’s okay.
Much like in the rest of American society, the extrovert ideal is present at Leesville. However, this expectation is present more outside the classroom than inside the classroom. My teachers have made efforts to accommodate introverted students by offering options, like a choice of working individually or in a group. On the other hand, outside the classroom, I feel as though I have not escaped the judgement of my peers and the label of “quiet”—or worse, “antisocial.”
The problem lies in the fact that many people do not understand introverts. Further awareness of the diversity in extroverted versus introverted temperatures would ensure that introverted students feel able to perform at their best inside the classroom and at home in the Leesville community.
For anyone looking to learn more about introverts, I highly recommend reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.