Quiet at school

Quiet kids face prejudice in an education system that favours extroversion.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

Schools – just like wider society – perpetuate the ‘Extrovert Ideal’;  they encourage children to be sociable, to be bold,  to speak up!

And this extrovert bias creates what I call ‘Quiet Prejudice’. 

School tells quiet kids their quiet is bad. It’s not enough to be studious. If they really want to make the grade, to go far in life, introverted children are told, then they should try and be a bit more like their louder, more gregarious peers. 

A child’s quiet is seen as a deficit; it costs them marks; it’s the big fat ‘buts’ on every school report: “Sam demonstrates an excellent understanding of the subject in their written work, BUT hangs back in group work and would benefit from contributing more.” 

Introverted/shy children are told they won’t do as they are. 

Quiet Prejudice. 

Since the publication of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, in 2012, awareness of introversion throughout society has grown. 

However, the central notion that introversion is an inborn temperament doesn’t seem to have seeped through enough; not when it comes to the world of education, anyway. 

Teachers continue to comment on a kid’s quietness like it’s a bad thing, something that needs fixing- seemingly oblivious to the fact they are attacking something innate to that child. This simply wouldn’t be tolerated in relation to any of the child’s other innate characteristics. A teacher wouldn’t say to a pupil who’s struggling to read, ‘you’re not DYSLEXIC, are you?’; and yet they’d have no qualms saying ‘you’re not SHY, are you?’ to a pupil who prefers to keep schtum. 

This is discrimination. This is Quiet Prejudice.

There’s a lot of focus in schools right now on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

So it’s even more disconcerting to see the extent to which the extrovert ideal continues to pervade our kids’ classrooms and playgrounds, with introverted children remaining fair game; stigmatised and shamed for something they can’t help being. 

Teachers (and parents) don’t seem to realise how much damage they’re potentially doing to a child’s sense of self-worth, when they speak to their quietness or shyness in a negative way. 

A school system that operates on the assumption that a healthy, happy child is one who is outgoing and expressive, as opposed to taciturn and reserved, is one that can seriously fuck quiet kids up. 

The way introverted children are treated at school also undermines another priority for educators these days – promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Children are taught to celebrate and respect each other’s differences.  

Unless what makes a child different is how much quieter, calmer, and contemplative they are compared to their classmates. In which case, they’ll be encouraged to ‘come out of their shell’ in order to meet our extrovert-biased society’s standard for what constitutes a healthy, normal child i.e. one who is more sociable. 

Teachers also encourage their pupils to foster empathy and care for one another. But all this counts for nought when the shy boys and the quiet girls get penalised and picked on all because they just so happened to be born the introvert way.

Being introverted remains one of the innate, individual differences for which a child can still be treated poorly for.  

Introverted kids are misunderstood, humiliated, called out, marked down, ignored, belittled, baby-talked and bullied – by their teachers, peers, and parents –  all because they were born with brains hardwired for quiet. 

More needs to be done to educate our educators about introversion, to address the bias that still very much exists against quiet kids, which is enacted upon them in ways that cause them harm.  

It’s time to end Quiet Prejudice in our schools.

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