Meet Maya. Susan Cain describes Maya as the “redhead with a ponytail, wire-rimmed glasses, and a dreamy expression on her face” (251). In a classroom group with talkative students, Maya is clearly the quiet one who holds back rather than offering her ideas freely to the group. When she does talk, she looks down or away and mumbles. She “sits curled up at the periphery of the group, writing her name over and over again in her notebook, in big block letters, as if to reassert her identity. At least to herself” (252). Truth be told, Maya is an excellent writer, a great softball player, and a kind tutor for others who are struggling academically. But she is an introvert in a school designed for extroverts in a world that idealizes the extrovert (252). As a teacher yourself, you recognize Maya.
Maya is one of several illustrative character studies in Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Maya’s story, of course, has to do with students, the classroom, interactions (or not) directly with other students and indirectly with the teacher. Although the book is not, strictly speaking, written for teachers, there is much teachers can translate to their classrooms from the relational situations and character analyses Cain describes. We meet child development researchers, teachers, students, inventors, CEOs, and employees who all live and work in situations that can help teachers recognize the traits of the Mayas in the world, learn to accommodate them, and find ways to maximize their strengths.
As one of the 30 to 50 percent of Americans who are introverts—definitions vary—Cain advocates for introverts in a world drawn to the socially adept, those who network easily and seem to be the life of the party. Introverts are the protagonists of the book. She wants them to know and celebrate that they too, perhaps unknowingly, have a power that resides in their contemplative manner, their thoughtful analysis of problems, and their quiet, out-of-the-mainstream creativity. She organizes her book into three sections: a definition of the problem, an analysis of it, and methods for introverts and extroverts to work together toward solutions.
The problem begins in nineteenth-century America’s transformation from a culture of character with an emphasis on who a person is (citizenship, honor, morals, integrity) to a culture of personality with an emphasis on how one presents oneself (magnetic, attractive, forceful, energetic) (23–24).
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