an extroverted mathematician: the ideal image of success?

Ken Robinson says that we’re born creative and then “educated out of creativity.”  In most cases, public education offers one way of learning and values one kind of skills and intelligence (emphasis on mathematics and language, for example).  And we push our children through one pigeon-hole of an educational paradigm.

Just as we value one kind of intelligence, we also value one type of personality.

My 4-year old son is actually pretty good at “doing school.”  He’s good at following directions, participating in group work, and following a schedule.  He likes structure.

However, in new environments where there are strangers, a lot of noise, hustle and bustle, and a bit of chaos, he shuts down. Birthday parties, for example, are very hard for him.  Even though he loves his friends and he wants to be there, it’s tough for him.  He’ll stand back, cling to me, and sometimes even says he wants to leave.  It’s pretty clear that he’s an introvert.

As Susan Cain argues in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (which I haven’t read yet – I’ve heard and seen her interviews), we see being an extrovert as “normal” (or as good) and introvert as lacking.  I’ll be the first to admit that I get frustrated with my son when he clings to me at parties.  I wish he could be one of those kids that step right up, jump right in, and get into the spirit of the party.

But no.  He is the kid who hangs back and observes, preferring to SEE what’s going on rather than to be part of what’s going on. It’s hard for me to not see this as “something wrong.”  And I have to work really hard internally to not push him, to not get mad at him.  His daycare teacher and I have joked that he’s the “creepy watcher.”

Today, I watched as he participated in two different parties.  In the morning, he attended a small birthday party at a friend’s house.  There were just a handful of kids who were all younger than my son.  The kids played quietly with toys.  Nothing much going on.  My son was comfortable and at ease there.

In the afternoon he went to a party at a Build-a-Bear store, and he struggled.  It was noisy and just “too exciting” for him, I think.  At one point, when the store staff person picked a few of the kids to go with another staff member, he started crying and said to me “I don’t want to have to go somewhere else.”  I could see in his body language and by his facial expression that as much as he was curious about the whole process and wanted to be there at the party, it was tough for him emotionally.  Maybe that’s why he passed out as soon as he climbed into his bed tonight.

I worry about his going from his daycare to kindergarten next year.  Why? Because HE is worried about it already.  Once in awhile, out of the blue, he says to me, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to a new school with new friends.”  It’s on his mind.  He’s worried and it’s stressful for him.

I wonder how my own children will fare in the education system.  Watching Waiting for Superman didn’t exactly help me feel at ease.  Will they make it? What will we do if they don’t fit in?  How will I know what’s working and not working for them?  How will I help them navigate their school experience without being a helicopter mom?

If my children turn out to be introverted dancers or artists, how will they fare in a world that values extroverted mathematicians or scientists?


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