Imagine dreading going to class because you fear being called upon by the professor to answer a question. Or you know the answer to a question but are too afraid to speak in front of a group of people. That is a glimpse of what goes on in the mind of an introvert or someone with social anxiety. About 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder. It is defined as a disorder that causes excessive and powerless fear of social situations. It can interfere with daily situations, job performance, social life, making it difficult to complete school, job interviews, have friendships and romantic relationships. Although we live in an extroverted world, today's educational environment can negatively affect introverts with social anxiety.
Collaborative work, forced participation, and oral presentations have risen in popularity for the past 25 years but it creates anxiety and stress onto the student. The current curriculum seems to have been written for the "typical" extrovert. In most classrooms, very little is made available to the introverted learner except constant advice on becoming more social and outgoing "like the rest of the students." Jessica Lahey, an extroverted teacher and writer, controversially argued that introverts should be coerced to participate in order to be successful in today's world. But she doesn't know first-hand how coercion negatively affects an introvert.
Just a couple days ago, I was having a normal conversation with a friend, and all of a sudden my voice started shaking and my heart was beating faster than usual. It wasn't like I was particularly nervous or anything but it just happened on its own. This isn't the only time it has ever happened either. My anxiety affects me every day. When I walk around campus, my head is usually facing to the ground because I don't like eye contact and I automatically assume everyone is judging me. It took me a whole day to recover from my nerves when I had to talk in front of the class about myself for three minutes. It doesn't help that I do not take medicine for my anxiety in fear of the side effects.
No student, especially an introvert, should have to feel this way after being forced to participate in class. It does not allow the person to enjoy being at school if they are pressured to do things that are uncomfortable to him/her. In high school, I had to do an oral presentation for one of my classes on a designated topic. I asked the teacher if I could possibly do an alternative assignment instead of an oral presentation but she did not deem it fair to the other students. When I received my grading sheet back, I noticed that the teacher took more points off for "being awkward" than the presentation itself. I believe that oral presentations should be focused on the subject itself rather than how the presenter speaks.
Introverts may not earn grades that truly reflect their skills or comprehension of material. What part of the grade reflects actual knowledge or skill, and what part is participation or effort? A classroom participation grade generally rewards students who are active communicators. So the quiet learner who finds traditional classroom discussion challenging may be penalized by a teacher who interprets introversion as disinterest or silence as confusion about the content. Emily Klein, professor of teacher education at Montclair State University, theorized that including participation into a grade is intended to reflect evidence of learning results in a foggy understanding of students' achievement. It penalizes the quiet student who might be listening and creating space for thinking and reflection.
Society would not exist if it were not for the introverted cavemen that stayed in while the extroverted ones hunted or died. The education environment should allow introverts to move at their own pace rather than participation coercion. The way to balance our extroverted world is to allow the quiet to remain quiet as they please and let the loud ones be loud. If we do not cater to the needs of introverts, then there will be no balance in the workplace.