The Importance of Being Wilder

by Jeanne Bernish on June 27, 2012

Our annual beach vacation goes something like this: we set up shop at the beach and park it there until we are too sunburned to venture forth in the midday sun (usually about mid-week). Then my husband starts to talk about “driving up the coast a bit” to see what’s new. And that’s where he is now while I grab a quieter than usual time (I guess we’re pretty, ahem, introverted) to write a little bit about a book I just finished reading called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” by Susan Cain.

I got pretty excited about the book as I flipped through it -particularly the American journey from a “culture of character to a culture of personality” – this Barnum and Bailey World we live in where (in my opinion) showmanship has one-upped true innovation and “groupthink” has triumphed over the solitary-but-dedicated work ethic. America is a world of extroverts – to examine the experiences of an Asian student in an American university, for example, is to see ourselves in all our boisterous glory. The successful Asian student assimilates by learning how to become self promotional/less deferential to his professors/more team-oriented – or learns to accept fewer opportunities. To be king of the PowerPoint delivery is more valued by many American companies than knowledge or reason. To sell a concept – no matter how nutty or contrived – is often the mettle by which promotions are made, overpriced mergers are approved, risky derivatives are traded, attacks are launched (Little Bighorn, anyone?).

Our schools have attempted to accommodate this cultural shift by embracing more and more group work and an increasing emphasis on social skills. [In fact, I would venture to say that our local public middle school expends such a great effort on developing social skills that it has had little effect on academics – but I digress.] But the constant activity, drumbeat of group work and emphasis on social skills can be deafening and counterproductive for the quiet, sensitive, introverted and, yes, gifted child in the classroom. So this was music to my ears:

The school environment can be highly unnatural, especially from the perspective of an introverted child who loves to work intensely on projects he cares about, and hang out with one or two friends at a time. In the morning, the door to the bus opens and discharges its occupants in a noisy, jostling mess. Academic classes are dominated by group discussions in which a teacher prods him to speak up. He eats lunch in the cacophonous din of the cafeteria, where he has to jockey for a place at a crowded table. Worst of all, there’s little time to think or create. The structure of the day is almost guaranteed to sap his energy rather than stimulate it.

Why do we accept this one-size-fits-all situation as a given when we know perfectly well that adults don’t organize themselves this way? We often marvel at how introverted geeky kids “blossom” into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis. However, maybe it’s not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. They don’t have to live in whatever culture they’re plunked into.
(passage from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)

There is no correlation made to high ability children or adults in this introvert/extrovert guide but I found it illuminating nonetheless for parents of a high ability child. We can learn quite a bit about how to better accommodate the introverted child in the classroom – and in some cases, our homes as well.  

 {The Wilder reference:  A passing reference to Oscar Wilde my son mumbled to as he left the room this afternoon but which I heard as “Oscar Wildberry” which sounded like a great name for a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor. Regardless, I thought that the bottom line of “Quiet” is to teach our sensitive introverted children to be a little “wilder” – my words, not Cain’s.}





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