Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I like people, really I do.

But, I find too much time, with too many people, overwhelming. I need time alone to recharge. This is, of course, because I am an introvert. This doesn't mean that I dislike being social (I love being around friends). But, time spend with lots of people needs to be balanced with time to recharge.

Further, although I like the idea of going to a large party... in practice, I find that I feel lost in large social settings. I get overwhelmed and have a difficult time following conversation. My favorite party would be a gathering of four to eight people where we can talk and chat. This is why I love to invite a handful of folks over at a time to shoot pool. We are lousy pool players, but with the distraction of the pool game to follow and a not-overwhelming number of people - I can really have a terrific time.

Similarly, I found a perfect job for my predisposition. As a college professor, I spend 12 hours a week in a classroom, enjoying interacting with students (and, I really enjoy it). But, I enjoy it because I spend most of the rest of my time in my office. In my office, I am either alone or working with one or two people at a time - just right for me. At other times that I can choose, I can socialize with my colleagues over lunch or in the hall, and then return to my office to recharge.

I've always been this way - navigating public school as a child was horrific. If I hadn't been a bit of an outcast already, my inability to cope with the constant flow of people (from a crowded classroom, through crowded, chaotic halls to the next classroom) would have made me one. About 25% of people identify themselves as introverts. This really just means that they find time with people tiring and time alone revitalizing. Imagine, you extroverts out there, how you'd feel if a mandatory part of your upbringing required you to be by yourself in a room for six straight hours every day? Yeah, I thought so.

This is one of many ways that public education fails children. I would surmise (speculation only) that many (if not most) of the 25% of our population that identifies themselves as introverts find the straight six hours of public school exhausting. Like my oldest son, when he was in public school (and me, as a child) - many children get off the schoolbus at the end of the day completely wiped out. Z used to get off the bus to spend the next forty-five minutes in the bathroom. He didn't need the bathroom - he needed a quiet and private place to decompress.

This is one way that homeschooling can accomodate needs that the public school cannot. Z is happy and outgoing when he sees people now. As he no longer faces a barrage of people all day long; when he has time to socialize, he is eager to do so. He can choose to spend times with appropriately sized groups of people (generally small). He can spend time with the people that make him feel better about himself and avoid trying to navigate the complex and strange social world that we call public school. He is happier and does better with his friends in doses than he did when in a classroom all day, every day.

Some might say that lack of socialization is a problem for homeschooled kids. Bah. If the social experiences in school mimicked adult life - that would be a scary thing. In adult life, if you choose your profession well - mean girls, bullies, playground antics, and sophomoric put-downs are not part of being appropriately socialized. Part of the problem with those that believe this myth of homeschool is that teachers and psychologists, therapists and school administrators are almost exclusively extroverted and have a difficult time understanding the challenges that schools present to introverts. Further, they think that all introverts are shy - we are not. All introverts find socializing tiring - but we socialize in different ways: some by trying to control social situations, some by chatting incessantly, some by silence, some by sneering... we are all different. I only wish that I could return to my awkward kid self and reinforce that being introverted and enjoying your own company is perfectly ok. While being popular is commonly expressed as a suitable goal - would make you unhappy. Popularity is partly characterized by (hello, duh) being around other people most of the time, often in large groups.

I will take this one step further and suggest that, at the very least, while it is unrealistic to expect schools to provide private time to introverted kids - they could reinforce that it is ok, normal, and provide some better coping mechanisms for children that don't understand why school leaves them mentally exhausted. If you got here because you need this kind of reassurance - you're ok. There are jobs out there for you that can balance your (everyone's) need for social interaction with time to yourself. There are romantic partners that also can balance your need for companionship and understand your need to have time to yourself.

There are resources that understand you - here is just one, there are many more:


Ty Unglebower said...

Good article. But the percentage of introverts is actually 50%, not 25%, according to Myers-Briggs.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for this. Those first two paragraphs describe me to a T. And thanks for reminding me that homeschooling my 5yo probable introvert is probably a good idea.