Looking for a Holiday Read? Quiet.

Wrapping up our 2013 tasks this morning, we discussed teaching and learning in higher education, considering ‘Work-Place Oriented Learning’. This HE theme is flooded with theories of the engaged/engaging self. Universities are expected to produce graduates equipped with knowledge and experience, prepared to engage with others and ready to socialise and work. We are also aware that significant knowledge is produced in much longer periods of time, beyond students’ university experience and within workplace settings outside lecture theatres. Currently, learning is shaped by education discourses within schools and colleges, and formed in social and intellectual settings in higher education, requiring the learner to develop certain dispositions in order to adapt, change, self-control (self-efficacy), actively engage with others (become fully skilled extroverts)!


In our time, this thirst for extroversion leading to success is encouraged in online settings for learning, social media (esp. twitter), in addition to face-to-face interaction in the classroom, in meetings, conferences, and even in family gatherings. We are continuously expected to be in the debate zone, to transfer knowledge, encouraging our students to do the same. Therefore how we lecture and develop practical ideas for lecturing is one of those areas that remains to be challenging. Lecturers and teachers are expected to be skilled communicators, confidents talkers, and knowledgeable extroverts; to successfully hold students’ attention, actively monitor learning, link the material they teach in each session, always debate, use the learners by rhetorical questioning and verbal interaction, and ultimately manifest an overall model of gregariousness and extroversion. But what is the point in expecting everyone to go out there and do amazing things? Where  and what is ‘out there’? What is ‘amazing’?


Perhaps this method of teaching has its lineage in our historical/social constructs in the West, assuming that to be successful, overtly engaged behaviour in the public domain is necessary. This attitude is a dangerous one; it gives prominence to success by emphasising what we communicate rather than what we know, preventing any potential disruption (e.g. solitude, reflection, quiet time) to one’s social interaction. Unfortunately the indication is that in order to flourish, one learns to constantly discuss different subjects with diverse groups of people in order to win, which in turn creates a noisy world. This type of knowledge transfer has some negative consequences, one of the major drawbacks being the hierarchy of extrovert- ambivert-introvert. Those who achieve a great level of noise are perceived and accepted as embodiments of victory. The reality may be far from it.


‘A Young Girl Reading’ (1776), by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, location
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., United States

Introverts have the ability to enjoy silence and relish time alone. One of the healthiest aspects of any person’s life is their aptitude to feel comfortable in solitude. This is a difficult task, as experiencing one’s private time away from the noisy crowd requires reflection; not everyone feels comfortable and confident in their own quiet world. Being aware of this difficulty, society is focused on extroversion and noise, presenting extroverts as models of success and introverts as “antisocial” and “abnormal”, “unfriendly” or “shy”.


Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë, by their brother Branwell (c. 1834). He painted himself among his sisters, but later removed the image so as not to clutter the picture.


We all know that many notable men and women in the intellectual world have been introverts. One example is a poet whose birthday we celebrate today: Emily Dickinson. Her literature of self-reflection is a magnificent and profound one. We have chosen one of her poems on grief, particularly for those who are planning to attend our summer conference Grief. Language. Art. (8-10 July 2014). Today we are advised to socialise and refrain from solitude; we are expected to try and make our lives painless and perfect. But great minds such as Emily Dickinson embraced their being with all its different dimensions. Fortunately Dickinson is one poet in a world full of great introvert minds. Think historical examples of thought-provoking literary figures and their siblings, the Brontës, the Du Maurier sisters, the Wright brothers, Wittgenstein, P. G. Wodehouse, Einstein, and all those whose work continues to inspire us. If you believe such characters do not exist today, you are mistaken. Somewhere, somehow, you can find one or a few individuals working in silence and helping others, or some thinking what to do to make the world a better place again in their own quiet environment; a type of praying for the world without any social pretension. Elsewhere, those who quietly indulge in creativity without making a public fuss about it. We are unfortunate not to meet these people, and it is pitiful if we meet them, but perceive them as abnormal, simply because they are different from the majority norm, but the next generations will find out about their works one way or another.


Wright brothers at the Belmont Park Aviation Meet in 1910


As lecturers and academic practitioners, we are called to identify these varieties of great minds. Lecturing requires a great deal of socialising. You may be astonished to know that in a recent handbook for lecturers (53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Lectures, 2012) only one page is allocated to the importance of “Quiet Time“, admitting that ‘Reflection can be difficult in a bustling atmosphere’ (p.43).  Most lecturing ideas in this handbook are generated on the assumption that modern learners are all extroverts, happy to talk, communicate, engage in group-work, or perhaps even dance in order to learn! However, Susan Cain reassures us that not everyone has become manifestly extrovert. There are still those who enjoy their quiet lives. Individuals who take delight in moments alone or in small groups; those who enjoy activities that enhance learning in solitude. Here is a link to one of Susan’s talks about the subject.


If you are interested, we certainly recommend her book:


“Stop the Madness for Constant Group-Work”, Susan Cain


Susan Cain speaking at the TED2012 conference, (“not my natural milieu”) with a prop suitcase which was said to be a metaphor for the treasures, memories, activities and thoughts that make you you. Cain’s own suitcase contained books.