Introverts, Islands, and Assembly Lines

In lieu of this week’s class, I thought I would speak about Cain’s article “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” As an introvert myself, the power of introversion is not lost on me, but as Cain points out, it does not seem valued in our culture or in models of leadership.  As she notes we “see talkers as leaders.” From our readings, however, it sounds like new theories of leadership are recognizing not just the value of introverts, but the value of followers, the value of diversity, and the larger moral dimensions of leading organizations.

But I was intrigued by Cain’s epigraph by William Whyte (and as an English teacher the reference to poet John Donne!) and found that it’s from the best-selling The Organization Man (1956): “Society is itself an education in the extrovert values, and I think it can be rightfully argued that rarely has there been a society which has preached them so hard. No man is an island unto himself, but how John Donne would writhe to hear how often, and for what reasons, the thought is so tiresomely repeated.” Among other things, Whyte was concerned about the absorption of the individual within an organization leading to “groupthink”–a term he coined. While these ideas no doubt spring from the conformist spirit of the time, it’s easy to see how the idea of groupthink still applies to education today. Many teachers–especially those new to the profession–have stopped questioning the wisdom of standardized testing and the instruments that accompany it. With scripted reading programs, curriculum guides, pacing charts, benchmarks, and high-stakes tests, the value of the independent thinker–teacher and student–gets lost. This is assembly-line education.

Educational leadership must transform this homogenizing system. It must inspire and empower teachers to see themselves as professional decision makers inside the classroom and out. It’s time to remove teachers and students from the assembly line. As Whyte also writes, “by giving the worker more of the total job to do – asking him to wire the whole set, for example, instead of just one relay – they have given him that wonderful thing that is challenge, and he has responded with more effort, more skill, more self-respect.” Teachers need to be given “more of the total job” of educating children and creating a positive school culture. This can mean different things depending on the teacher’s strengths, but administrators need to know the strengths of their teachers–even the introverts–and then empower them to lead.

For more on introverts, islands, and assembly lines:

The Power of Introverts

from John Donne’s “Meditation XVII” (1623)—a reminder of our collective responsibility: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Standardized tests for everyone?

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