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!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

An Introvert's Response to the 30 Million-Word Word Gap

So, everyone is reading about it. The articles are all over the likes of Atlantic Monthly and NPR. Another study has found that children of low socioeconomic status hear 30 million fewer words than children of higher socioeconomic status. Of course, the point of publicizing this information is to encourage parents who might not otherwise do so to talk to their babies and toddlers. Most of these parents would have a very different educational background than yours truly, a college English professor. But, if you're a guilt-ridden neurotic like I am, your response to all the word gap articles that came out this week was to say to yourself, "Holy crap, I've got to talk to my child more!"

Basically, I'm hoping that this buzz about the word gap doesn't turn into middle-class people pressuring themselves (or their fellow parents) EVEN MORE into embracing the notion that children need to be stimulated every minute or they will be losing out on something. Or that a parent's (or, by extension, teacher's) job to respond to a child's every sentiment or satisfy his or her every curiosity.

On yesterday's walk, I was tormented. Would my introversion disadvantage my child? Were the days of quietly snuggling my infant gone? Must I change to become a proper vocabulary-building, choice-offering mother? Was I asking the baby enough questions? Furthering the conversation enough with my 6 month-old in her carriage? I exhausted myself with "What do you see? Is that a tree? What color is the tree. The tree is green! What else is green?" Gah. If walks were always going to be like this, I didn't want to go on any more of them.

Today, we walked quietly. What introvert wouldn't want to teach her child the pleasure of a quiet walk? I observed that my daughter looked all around and that, since I already talk a lot to her, it's ok for her to just look around sometimes. If I don't distract her, she has to think about what she sees. As she gets older, I will teach her that being quiet doesn't mean you're doing nothing. I hope other parents and educators realize that quiet does not always signal a lack of something. There are positive ways of being quiet. Being quiet can mean taking time to be observant and reflective. This doesn't mean to ignore your kids and hope they become contemplative little Buddhas. It means to teach them the good ways of being quiet. We can instill habits of self-reflection. Some inner-city schools have even had great success with teaching kids to meditate.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I hope these 30 million-word word gap findings are not interpreted in such a way that contributes to the current atmosphere in education and parenting that learning can't happen without talking, without noise. Believe me, as a community college English teacher, I want kids to come to school with great verbal skills so, parents, talk away. But as our babies grow up, let's not forget to show them that words can also have rich lives in our heads and on the page.