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Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain
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by Steve Gardiner
June 23, 2016
Anyone who has taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator knows that this personality inventory looks at 16 combinations of personality traits and presents the results in four letters. The first letter is either an I or an E, representing introvert or extrovert. This basic personality trait is significant anytime human beings interact with each other, according to Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Crown Publishers, 2012).
First defined by the psychologist Carl Jung in 1921, the introvert/extrovert spectrum has been the subject of many subsequent studies. Cain explained, “Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough” (p. 10).
Cain noted that one-third to one-half of all adults and students are introverts. This has significant meaning to educators. In a nation where our schools are often crowded and noisy, Cain emphasized the importance of providing think time for students. Our traditional educational system places high value on what Cain called the Extrovert Ideal. Those students who talk frequently in class, whether right or wrong, often get more credit from the teacher than do quiet students who may know the answers just as often as students who speak out. In fact, those quiet students are commonly the subject of comments like, “I wish I could get him to talk more in class.” Cain warned that such attitudes may be detrimental or damaging to introverted students.
Teachers need to understand that quiet students may need more time to process, but at the same time, may think more deeply and more creatively than their louder classmates. They may also stick with tasks longer. Cain wrote, “Persistence isn't very glamorous. If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent. We love its flash and dazzle. But great power lies in the other ninety-nine percent” (p. 169).
Even though introverts are hesitant to speak out in most situations, Cain found many historical cases where introverts have set their innate tendencies aside and acted much the same as extroverts in highly social situations. This is because they have identified what Cain called core personal projects which are activities, events, or circumstances that cause the introvert to temporarily step outside her normal comfort zone and act in a different manner. This is effective as long as the introvert can eventually retreat to what Cain called a “restorative niche.” This niche allows the introvert to recharge and balance life.
Cain is not saying that introverted students should not give speeches to the class, but that those students need time to prepare and need to feel that they have a reasonable chance of succeeding at the task before they do it. Our schools, said Cain, are designed for extroverts and she made a strong case for finding ways to allow those introverted students to work toward their strengths. Schools give extroverts endless opportunities to display their personalities and introverts should be allowed to do the same.
Cain's book is an excellent read for any educator and her TED Talk will entice anyone into wanting to know more about her ideas and research. See her talk at
Cain asked educators to “enjoy your gregarious and participatory students. But don't forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasms for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth-century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow” (p. 265).
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