Quiet by Susan Cain

“Quiet” by Susan Cain (a book review)

I happen to be one of the lucky few who has happened to find herself teaching at a school whose ideologies regularly match her own. I am nurtured and nourished by the idea of reading juicy, provocative, and challenging texts over the summer to push forward my practice as a teacher. I even, dare I say, feel elated when these summer reads are as interesting as they are useful! I’m heading away in a few short weeks for a summer adventure in Japan, so I thought that I should get a start on the reading while the reading is good. So this is the first in a series of edu-book reviews; partially to share some ideas for good books for my wider PLN, but also to help me remember what it was that I read once September rolls around again.

 

“Quiet” by Susan Cain

For those of you who have yet to see Susan Cain’s mesmerizing TED talk, her dynamic presentation might make you give pause and wonder, “Is this woman actually the introvert she claims to be?” When watching this talk, maybe two years ago, I actually started to recognize the beauty of my own introvert status and let go of the guilt I would sometimes feel when I would rather stay home with one or two close friends than have a night of raucous revelling on the town. Here is the video for a short sample of Cain’s message:

[youtube]http://youtu.be/c0KYU2j0TM4[/youtube]

The book is even better than this talk.

As a teacher, I think the most useful thing I can take away from this text is remembering that more of my students will be introverts than I will realize or know and this should affect my teaching. Our modern world, according to Cain and the research she dissects for her readers, is an extrovert’s world, one that values the loud, flashy, salesmanship of personality, over the subtler, deeper, and often more reflective qualities of character.

“All of which raises the question, how did we go from character to personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?” (p. 33)

 While I can’t control the shifting ideals of “self” in my classroom (at least not directly), I can control how I structure the unravelling of curriculum. One practice that I can take away from Cain’s book is to honour how good ideas are actually formed (surprisingly, not through brainstorming) and recognizing the role solitude can play in creativity. Cain explore Steve Wozniak’s story and how he successfully leveraged social connections to further her creative computer design, but how ultimately he did the real creative nose-to-the-grind work alone.

“Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four,” (p. 88)

So collaboration and co-operative group projects might not get the best work or most creative ideas out of my students. How I structure and scaffold collaboration matters and, perhaps more importantly, how I structure and scaffold independent practice and thinking routines really matters! The studies that Cain shares tells the story that online collaboration is a beautiful mix of solitude and sharing, allowing more quality ideas to come to the surface. I wonder if “thinking routines”, such a the “chalk talk” (from last summer’s reading “Making Thinking Visible“) would be a good balance of collaboration and independence, permitting better ideas to be documented?

I have very little criticism of Cain’s powerful and endearing book. It was easy to relate to and I saw many of my students and beloved friends between the numbers and stories shared. I do have to wonder though, if more time could be devoted to considering how to encourage more people (perhaps mostly people in school, still developing and forming their ideals of “self”) to “stop talking” and tap into the powers of quiet.

Susan Cain aptly recognizes the importance of introverts learning effective coping strategies to speak in front of auditoriums full of people, successfully embrace their leadership potential, and know how to “put on” being extroverted for the sake of jobs and careers they love, but what about the importance of extroverts finding balance themselves? Presumably many people reading this text are legitimate extroverts. While much of the world celebrates the gregarious, uninhibited, confidence of a true extrovert, how can teachers scaffold for these people how to become a deep and compassionate listener? How can parents show their children the beauty of reading a book for an evening of entertainment? How can adults learn to find a more nuanced, balanced leadership style?

The quiz Cain offers her readers to determine your introvert status is telling: there are many aspects that make up who we are. Rarely is a person only one thing in all situations. When I am in front of my students, I am singing, dynamic, and full of life (mostly…depends on the coffee situation), but when I am with a new group of people at a party, I am cozied up with one or two people, having an in depth conversation. I am not only an introvert. There is a clear benefit in training students to see their strengths as a quiet, reflective, introspective, and creative person, but there are also merits in training young people to be capable speaking in front of people powerfully, comfortably leading others, and meeting new people in new places. One way of being is not better than the other and true power comes from knowing what tool is needed for any given situation.

“The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind of you’ve been granted.” (p. 266)