on books and screens and extroverts and introverts …

'an evening playing 'smartphone' pub quiz with the exeter twitterati!' photo (c) 2011, Phil Campbell - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I witnessed something, last week at work, that bothered me and continues to bother me.  Last year, we lifted our embargo of cell phones and music devices on campus during the school day.  It had long bothered me that we did not allow students to listen to music during their non-class periods during the school day so it was a relief when the decision was made for students to be able to listen to music, access their smart phones, read on their tablets, and even text their friends.

Well during my lunch period last week a teacher I was having lunch with abruptly stood up, walked over to a student who was reading or perhaps playing a game on his phone, and told the student to get off his phone and told him that he should talk to people and socialize rather than than have his face in the screen of his phone.  Now, I don’t truly know the full context of the interaction or if there had been some interaction between the teacher and the student before I came on the scene, but this really bothered me.  I am not a gamer.  I don’t get gaming.  I don’t like gaming.  Gaming doesn’t interest me in the least at all.  It made me think, though, if this young man was playing a game …  So what?  Why is that automatically bad?

Our school is a really wonderful place!  I sincerely believe that! It is also, however, a place that puts a huge premium on extroversion.  We cheer for the stars in the school musicals! We cheer for the stars of the debate team! We love that our kids sit in circles and loudly argue the merits of their points in their English classes! We have talent shows! We have poetry slams! We love the fact that we can turn on some mics and have students stand up to ask authors questions on the fly in our all school assemblies!  It’s all wonderful!!!  And yet … it’s all so … EXTROVERTED!!!  Our admission process with interviews and mini-classes even puts a great premium on extroversion and being “outgoing.”

As an introvert (I’m not shy, but I am very much an introvert), being around all these extroverted people all day long can sometimes be incredibly draining and incredibly exhausting.  I love the kids and most of my fellow faculty members, yet, sometimes their energy just overwhelms me.

I think that the reason that I’m so bothered by a teacher ordering a student to turn off his phone is that I can see my 12-year old self in that boy.  My high school was very similar to the school I now teach in–VERY EXTROVERTED! In fact, I’d argue that American culture itself is VERY EXTROVERTED. Luckily, I have an office that I can retreat to when the stimulation of school gets to be too much.  Where, though, does a 12-year old get to go? I’d argue that maybe sometimes they need to “get away” into a game on their phone for a 40-minute lunch period.

And what the heck is wrong with that?

If you’re interested at all, and I hope that you are because the Myers-Briggs type indicator generally indicates that about half of the population probably leans toward introversion in some form so even if you are an extrovert, you have a lot of introverted people in your lives and in your classrooms, take a look at the article linked below!!! It’s a great read on the mind of an introvert!


It might be, as well, that I was bothered by the arbitrary portrayal of a student looking at a screen as automatically “anti-social.”  The very same teacher who told the boy to get off his phone and talk to others is an extremely avid reader.  I imagine that she’d NEVER tell a student reading a book on the quad during her lunch period, “Get your face out of that book and talk to people and be social!”

As a debate teacher, I think I could make the argument  that print books promote social isolation for hours on end in some children … That novels can teach children to be intellectually lazy as they allow for the one way dictation of ideas from author to reader without any mechanism in place for others to comment or question the ideas put forth by the author …

You get the idea …

I dunno, maybe I’m just grumpy!  Maybe just leave kids alone when they aren’t in class.  They’re all pretty danged good students that do good academic work.  Let ’em be kids and waste a few minutes smashing some colorful pigs or getting treasure from some temple for goodness sake!


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