It's tough to be an introvert in an extrovert world, especially in an extrovert's profession, like teaching. Through this blog, I'd like to share my own and others' reflections on being an introvert in the classroom. This isn't a place for misanthropes or grumps, though; I hope to thoughtfully discuss the challenges that introverts face in schools and celebrate the gifts that introverted teachers and students bring to the educational environment. If you can relate, please join me!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

En Masse at Mass

It occurred to me one Sunday at church that the current educational establishment would think of the format traditional Sunday services as such a waste: all these people gathered together and not interacting! They're all sitting together quietly, perhaps "alone together," as Sherry Turkle might say.

I think this sort of thought comes from our modern world of isolation. We live in densely populated cities, but we don't know our neighbors. Lawrence Ferlinghetti said we were all suffering from "piblokto madness," isolatedly fighting our own demons in tiny cubic dwellings. When you look at it that way, it seems like, oh, my, all these people nearby and yet such loneliness! The irony! The tragedy! The same seems to be the opinion when you have forty students in a room and they are not talking to each other but rather are quietly reading or, worse, listening to a teacher, a "sage on the stage," one of the world's most gag-worthy educationalese put-downs for the teaching style in which the student is not the center of attention.

But for most of human history, everyone was clumped together by virtue of necessity. Tribes pitched their tents close and people huddled together for warmth. People were ALWAYS together. When church services and much later public schooling started, I would imagine that there were so few educated leaders available that people had to attend en masse; there were not enough priests or teachers to go around. In other words, people attended in large groups because they had to, not because this was the best way to do things or because the goal was collaboration. The goals included reflection, introspection, thoughtfulness--all things done better alone or in pairs or very small groups. For most of history, the wealthy had private tutors and there were no giant classrooms full of kids. Of course, this was due to elitism, but I think also because it doesn't work; those with no financial limitations chose to do education one-on-one or one-teacher-per-family. With the diversity of our student populations now, one of my ed school professors said that maybe (in a perfect world with no economic constraints) the way for education to really differentiate instruction and address everyone's needs would be to have educators work with students on an individual or small group basis, the way lawyers work with their clients.

All this is to say that the panic that ensues when we see a large space with tens or hundreds of people being quiet and not interacting with each other is uncalled for. Just because there's  no talking or collaborating doesn't mean there should be or that nothing meaningful is going on.