As I continue reading Quiet, I was reminded of something that happened to me in college. I was often told growing up that college was when you would really be free. You could skip class if you wanted to without your parents having to write you a note or call the Attendance hotline and you wouldn’t suffer any consequences. You would be treated more like an adult. You could be more independent.
Fast forward to the actual college experience…you were required to come to class or your grade would be lowered. You still had a whole lot of rules and guidelines to follow whether they were at your dorm or on your syllabus and worst of all? Required participation. There may have been one class I took during my entire time in university where talking in class wasn’t a part of my grade. Needless to say, I was totally unprepared.
One of these classes I took was an English class (one of the 5 English classes I had that semester…yes I was a glutton for punishment). It was a small class, maybe 10 or so people, and it focused on the theme of the double (the idea that we all have a twin or copy of ourselves out there). We read a book a week and then had to write a 10 page paper on each one. The teacher was an engaging, older man who had been teaching at my university for a long time. He was one of many in the long line of teachers who required participation in his class. I, of course, loathed this. I never liked talking in class for a variety of reasons but I especially hated it in English class. Reading my work or the work of others in my Creative Writing classes was manageable, but talking about Medieval Literature? Not so much. My peers would be spouting all of this analytical mumbo jumbo about what they thought the theme of the book was or what that sentence really meant or what that character represented. It never resonated with me. One, because it felt forced, and two, because I just wasn’t getting those kind of deductions from the books. I’m a reasonably intelligent person so it’s not like I wasn’t comprehending the books we were reading, but as an introvert, it took me longer to process things, even once I was done with the book. I couldn’t just spout out insight on cue. Plus, all of the overanalysis really ruined the enjoyment of the actual reading of the book.
So, for all these reasons, I was never one to raise my hand or speak up in class. Well Dr. O’Brien was not having that. Only a couple of weeks into the class, he yelled at all of us because “not everyone was participating”. In a class of 10, it wasn’t hard to figure out who these people were and I was most definitely one of them. So for the rest of the course, I forced myself to try to find any kind of analysis I could of the books we read so that I could speak up and not have to deal with being yelled at or having it affect my grade. In the end, it was one of my most enjoyable classes in college. It’s one of the few classes I actually kept the books from. I even think I got an A.
That being said, I am still adamantly against colleges requiring students to participate as a part of their grade like we had to. That kind of requirement is part of this plague of groupthinking that seems to be spreading. That success equals only working in groups or on teams. That everyone should be speaking up because it’s the “normal” thing to do. Yes, we do need to learn how to work in teams sometimes and yes, sometimes we need to be pushed outside of our comfort zone. My inability to want to speak up wasn’t always about the reasons I listed above; sometimes it was just about my own insecurity too. But like I said in my previous post, we aren’t all extroverts and that’s ok. Everyone’s mind works differently and sometimes our thoughts aren’t always expressed best in front of a class. It doesn’t make us abnormal and it doesn’t make us lazy or poor students. It just makes us different. Some of the greatest minds in history have been introverts. So by schools forcing kids to participate as a part of their grade, you’re basically telling a good portion of them that they have to be someone that they’re intrinsically not in order to be successful, not just in school, but in life. A huge part of being in the work force is understanding that there are different types of people you’re going to work with; different types of personalities. And we all have to learn how to get along with each other and work well with that information in mind. Thus, universities should be forming their classes in the same way. Teachers should be respectful of the fact that not all of their students are going to fit in one box. What’s expected from one student, shouldn’t necessarily be the bar that’s set for all students. Besides, if I were a teacher, I would want the kids that truly wanted to share to be the ones talking. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to stress themselves out trying to come up with something to say just so they didn’t fail. I also wouldn’t want my students spouting disingenuous insights just because they wanted to get an A.
Dr. O’Brien, you were a great teacher and I thank you for all you taught me. Getting an A in your class was one of my proudest achievements but I’m still going to say…respect the introverts.