Friday, February 26, 2010
Schooling the introvert
WHAT is an introvert?
My husband and I are both introverts. Let me define exactly what I am saying when I say we are introverts. I am saying we are energised by being alone or in a situation that does not require us to be socially active where as being in a very social situation (such as a party) can be quite draining - even if we enjoy it. Our introversion is of different degrees. Papa Bear enjoys having people around but also needs a bit of alone time with his own thoughts. Mama Bear, however, could quite happily live in a cave. Forever. Especially if I had a computer and a decent library.
Being an introvert is NOT being shy. "Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness." In fact, paradoxically, I have known EXTROVERTS, people who crave and are energized buy the company of others, who are painfully shy!
Being an introvert does NOT mean we lack social skills. Papa Bear is much better than tact than I am I admit, but generally we can conduct ourselves fairly well. How many people do you know who are extroverts, life of the party types, who are often quite rude? i.e. LACK SOCIAL SKILLS!!
Being an introvert does not mean we are depressed or mentally unbalanced or had a traumatic childhood.
Psychologists will argue at length over the merits of "nature vs. nurture" (were they born that way or did the environment make them that way) but the fact that Papa Bear (introvert) + Mama Bear (extreme introvert) = Princess Doc (Extrovert!) makes me think that God made us all very special and unique and our social inclination is simply a part of that.
HOW did being an introvert effect your (Mama Bear's) schooling?
Throughout my school years the fact that I preferred to read during recess rather than play netball or socialise 'with the girls' caused many school staff members a great deal of concern. Numerous report cards worried and fussed over my "lack of social skills", however every single one of those teachers would also say that I could participate in class discussions, group activities and general class life as well if not better than most of my peers and maintained good relationships with my small group of friends. Their concern was that I seemed to prefer my own company for large portions of the day. If asked why this was a problem, I doubt many of them would be able to give adequate reason. However for most of the years I spent in school - even going through to my tertiary years (my teaching internship report card almost had "does not play well with others" on it because I preferred to eat lunch in the classroom rather than the staff room) - I was told or it was insinuated that I needed to CHANGE. That I needed to be different. That I needed to fit into the social mold being presented to me.
You see, it is easier for a school to function if the student body is homoginised - if the students are fairly uniform in composition and blend together easily. When a student doesn't blend in for whatever reason, it usually makes life more difficult for the staff and sometimes for the other students. Hence, there is pressure placed DAILY on students to blend in many classrooms and school settings. Being that introverts compose a minority in society (as one article puts it, "a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population.") and that by their very nature they find constant social interaction taxing - if not downright stressfull - what load does the average school setting place on the introverted child? What effect does it have on the introverted child to be labeled as "anti-social", "weird", "freaky" or "an outsider" not only by their peers but by the trusted adults who are meant to be mentoring and guiding them? Think on that for a while. It sort of makes me wonder if the stereotypical "strange, weird kid who simply snapped one day" used to be a perfectly normal introverted person who was subjected to pressures, bullying and bombarded by messages that they needed to be different until they really DID become unhealthy!
WHY does the world need introverts?
Well, I would say that Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison made contributions to the world. Hans Christian Anderson and C. S. Lewis certainly made an impact on the world of literature. I would suggest that the reason introverts compose "a minority in the regular population but a majority in the gifted population" is because introverts like to spend time with their own thoughts - giving their energy to figuring stuff out. Introverts have a special and unique contribution to bring to the world that is just as vital as the contribution made by extroverts. Introverts are a beautiful colour on the spectrum of human creation, NOT a defect. And God made us too!! There is an excellent article on evangelism for introverts here.
So, HOW do I handle the social aspect of my introverted child?
So far I have one baby bear who I can identify clearly as an introvert (Farm Boy) and another who is showing signs along those lines (Pigeon). Princess Doc is a clear extrovert and Tool Man could go either way at this point. Catering for the varying social needs and desires of our brood is simply part of parenting. Here are some insights we have gleaned from our own experiences being and parenting introverts.
First of all, let them be who they are! An introvert who is comfortable with the fact that they enjoy time alone will be far more functional socially than an introvert who feels inferior or defective because of their preference for alone time. It can be tempting for a homeschool family to push a child to participate in various groups and social events to assuage parental paranoia about raising an anti-social child. Don't do that! It is one thing to require a child to engage in family life and attend regular social events with the family, it is completely another to force arbitrary social stimuli on them for no logical reason other than to change their personality. "Introverts do like to socialize – only in a different manner and less frequently than extroverts." If an introverted child is to attend groups, camps, clubs etc. it needs to be primarily motivated by that child's passions and interests such as astronomy groups, Bible Studies, nature clubs or music camps rather than arbitrary 'socialising opportunities' which will likely be boring and counterproductive at best.
Second, take a look at your objectives in teaching your child about socialisation and society. Are you working to give them the tools they need to function successfully in society? Or are you trying to change them into an extrovert?
Third, recognise social skills as just that, a set of skills. The general consensus in most schools is that the "sink or swim" method of teaching social skills is woefully inadequate in terms of success. Therefore many schools are implementing programs for directly teaching social skills - many labeling these programs as 'anti-bullying' as bullying seems to be a major side effect of the sink or swim method. In our home we explicitly teach things like empathy, humility and conflict resolution through our character education. We help our children maintain friendships by having letter writing as a part of our 'language program'. We make time to hang out with our friends and family in low pressure situations (i.e. around a BBQ) and we watch how our kids are handling associating with others to see where we need to instruct them. The ability to politely decline an invitation to play is a VITAL social skill for an introverted child, something you can role play with them very easily. Both extroverted and introverted children, however, need social skills. Ironically, social skills come most naturally to our most introverted child!
Fourth, create a home environment that allows for privacy and solitude. We live in a house where there are 4 kids sharing a bedroom and our living/dining/kitchen area is small and open plan. Even the bathroom in combined with the toilet so retreating into there is a limited time option! However, if Farm Boy is laying on his bed with Red Bear, it is like hanging a do not disturb sign. If Mama Bear and Papa Bear close the bedroom door, you better be bleeding or have broken bones if you disturb them! If Princess Doc is curled up with a book or bent over a project - you simply let her be unless there is a very good reason to interrupt. We allow each other space because we could not function otherwise. Allowing space and solitude alleviates pressure to constantly socialise and creates opportunity for each of us to cultivate our personal relationship with God as well as recharging our batteries. Long term, this is a positive move for the social life of the whole family, not just the introverts. It also teaches the extroverts among us to respect and value the introverts rather than bullying or harassing them into being constantly social.
Last, ignore the critics and focus on what is best for your child. I have had people tell me that they could not possibly homeschool their child because the child is introverted and if they were homeschooled, they'd never speak to anyone! The reality is that I, and many other homeschooled introverts, found socialising MUCH easier once the pressure to be a social butterfly every day was taken off. Most introverted people still desire solid friendships and like all people they want to feel loved and valued. They just don't want to be talked at constantly! Even today, I find small talk taxing and it is an effort to engage in discussions about the weather etc. for more than five minutes. My friends have learned to, if not understand, tolerate this as one of the wonderful quirks that make up me. Isn't allowing the unique quirks of each child to develop a compelling reason to homeschool in the first place? I have learned to avoid, politely extract myself from or grin and bear small talk situations, to function within society without compromising my own integrity. Another good goal of a homeschool in my opinion!