Collaborative Learning Forced on Introverts? How About Not?

The subject matter in this article in The Atlantic annoys me. If you have read even a little of this blog, and certainly if you have known me for more than a few hours, you’ll know why once you read it. I don’t want to rehash an entire article, so go ahead and read it first before reading this response. It’s about introverts being left increasingly behind by design of our educational institutions in this country.

Read it? All right. Now some of my thoughts on the matter.

It stinks.

Not exactly my most probing commentary, I realize. Yet it absolute covers my feelings on it. Ridiculous, tone-deaf, unfair, short-sighted and typical would also have worked to describe my assessment in brief terms. (I guess they just did, in fact.)

I imagine that these types of collaborative work spaces are effective for a fair number of people. But the assumption that it is the apex of “human evolution” or whatever hoo-hah that one paragraph said, (to me it’s not even worth the time it would take to research the exact quotation) is as arrogant as it is misguided.

To me it’s like spending all day in school ridding kids of local accents, so we all sound like we come from New England, because hey, the Revolution started there. Or forcing left-handed children to write with the “correct” hand. (Our society used to do this.) There is a difference between access to, or brief exposure to a perception and process different from your own, and being shoehorned into an uncomfortable alternative while a captive audience in a school, because “human evolution.”

I’m introverted. Do I strike you as unable to advocate for myself and my beliefs so far?

I for the most part hate “group work” when the result is mandatory. In my experience, the kid who is loudest, or thinks himself the smartest or at least the funniest dominates the group, and nobody stands a chance to contribute their own ideas to the mix, unless the yell louder, more often, or enter into an equally unproductive confrontation with the boisterous types that also tend to take charge of such “groups.” That is “leadership” in more and more places in America these days, and it’s becoming an epidemic. I haven’t been to school in years, and it was already somewhat trendy when i did go, and I hated it. I lament for poor kids like myself who have to deal with its near-ubiquity today.

And bless the career of the author of this article for including this sentence, (one that is worth quoting exactly)-

“Meanwhile, some advocates for ‘active learning classrooms’ write about ‘breaking students and faculty out of their comfort zones’ like it’s a good thing…

That’s at least partially in tune with my notion that forcing people out of their comfort zones for its own sake is not noble. When exactly are the more extroverted people in classrooms supposed to be made uncomfortable by sitting down and keeping their mouth shut and listening to somebody else talk for an extended period of time? By considering the possibility that someone quiet might have the best idea in the group even if they do not shout, and that everybody should calm down and listen to it for a moment? Have half of the kids in our class room step into that zone for a semester, then call me about comfort.

If I sound frustrated and annoyed by the concept making classrooms and universities more extroverted, as well as the attitude behind it, I am. If i sound like I am declaring extroverted efforts out of line for everyone, and collaborative learning to be worthless, I am not. I’m not against giving extroverted students, or those who thrive on energetic interaction in school being placed in situations that suit them. But let’s stop acting like those situations are some sort of ideal to which we must aspire, dragging kids along who obviously don’t want such. Let’s stop criminalizing the subdued and the quiet. Make sure they do not avoid their responsibilities in school, naturally, but make sure those responsibilities are in line with who and what they are.

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