As I wrote earlier, last month I went to the Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto. One thing I really enjoyed was the plenary session by Susan Cain who wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Now the fun part of hearing her speak is that she often starts with an anecdote where she is at camp and her counsellor teachers her group a chant along the lines of “R-O-W-D-I-E that’s the way we spell Rowdie!! Rowdie! Rowdie! let’s get Rowdie! And being an introvert she wondered why they had to be so rowdie! and why they had to spell that word wrong. Now I always find that story funny, not because I’m an introvert (though I am) but because my my son is an introvert and my daughter is an extrovert and my daughter is R-O-W-D-I-E! (and no, she doesn’t care whether or not it’s spelled correctly) and my son would be the first kid to 1. wonder why everyone has to be so rowdie! and 2. why rowdy had to be spelled incorrectly. You see, when I was a kid, and even to this day, spelling has never been a particular talent of mine. But on the other hand neither has rowdiness.
The reason my kids stick out to me as particularly strong examples of extroversion and introversion ( besides the fact that my daughter is really really extroverted and my son is every bit as introverted) is that having been their mother since the day they were born, I can attest to the fact that this aspect of their personality is completely in born. How I found out my daughter was an extrovert: When she was two months old we took her to get her picture taken and she hammed it up for the photographer. That’s right. She first learned to work the room as early as two months old. Before having my daughter I was not aware that babies develop skills based on what is important to them not necessarily in order that the baby books say babies should develop skills. For example my daughter mastered holding her head up at a relatively early age because she enjoyed looking around to see how her subjects were reacting to her. She also did not say a single word until she was nineteen months old and that word was “wow wee”. That is because instead of learning words she first concentrated on learning how to have conversations. For example she would say “Ba ba ba ba ba? Ba ba ba ba. BA BA BA BA! My son also didn’t say a single word until he was nineteen months old. Because he didn’t want to talk. At all. But when we brought in a speech therapist he apparently thought “whatever”, and finally came out with his first word (or words), which in his case were “fwuit sawad, nummy nummy. fwuit sawad, nummy nummy. fwuit sawad, nummy nummy. nummy nummy nummy nummy fwuit sawaaaa-a-a-ad.” (did I mention that my son has a good memory? Not to mention a good ear?And a bit of a lisp?) but he did learn how to climb onto chairs when he was sixteen months old so he could do puzzles at the library because why not. I knew my son was an introvert when he wanted Mommy (and only Mommy) to hold him when he was a baby, facing in ( I have a great picture of him with my uncle at his first birthday “making strange” aka bawling his eyes out while my uncle makes an equally delightful face) and when he showed very little interest in vocalising at all. In any way. We worried that he might be deaf, though we had to wonder how he could hear a box of teddy grahams (his favourite snack at the time) being opened several rooms away. We knew that spelling was one of his superpowers when two months into kindergarten he wrote the following note to his bus driver ” Dear bus 123:
plaeseplease drop me off at ***** avenue and not the YMCA. A few months later he was tutoring his (older) sister in spelling. At her request. Weird, right? This is all to say that Extroversion/ introversion seemed pretty hard wired in my kids from the very beginning which is why when my daughter starting showing signs of being introverted or shy when she was in kindergarten it surprised me. And it suprised me even more when her teacher commented that her friend was “really bringing her out of her shell” (Is this the same girl who put on a show for the little old ladies at the CVS when she was getting her passport photos done at five months old? Is this the same girl who when she was a baby would grab the arms of complete strangers so she could “talk” to them?)
Needless to say something was up. More directly, when she walked out of school alone with her head hanging down, I could tell something was up. We moved her to a new school for grade 1 and again she had her head hanging down. Hmmm. The second school was the school her best friend went to so we thought that surely she would have a friend to stand up for her. Think again. Her “friend” ignored her at school, just like all the rest of the popular kids, leaving only the arty kids who no one else wanted to play with either, who “understood” her to be her friends. Nice girls to be sure but not enough friends to make up for the fact that other wise she was ignored.
I’m not 100% sure what went on at those schools. I think that mostly she was the kid no one was allowed to play with and not the kid who was beat up, but I know this. Standardised testing has been blamed for a lot of ills in American schools, but here’s one you probably haven’t heard: A culture which encourages bullying even in early grades. (Stay with me here….) My daughter went to a parochial school which was highly regarded in the city and the State for having very high standardised test scores. Needless to say this was a point of enormous pride. When we managed to get her into the school, we were told we very lucky. Lucky? It was a grade school not Snooty McSnootytington College! At any rate the atmosphere at the school was pretty intense. And one interesting thing about my kids is that they bothhave ADD. My daughter struggled to keep up despite being a smart little girl. And no wonder. The amount of homework and the level of homework was far too much for six to eight year olds. Being a high performing school also meant that parents sometimes were “encouraged” to “redshirt” their kids, a practice where parents kept their kids back so that they would be able to handle academics more easily. And this practice was rampant. But this is a practice that requires more money than we ever had. In short, a high pressure environment which didn’t tolerate students who had a struggle because of attention issues, a curriculum which seemed difficult for the given ages, hideous uniforms which made my chronically slender daughter look like an inmate in a concentration camp, a class full of kids who were older and more mature meant bad news for my sensitive, distracted, arty, quirky and slightly immature daughter. (Look! Grade 2 is the new Grade 3! or 4! Maybe 5!)
Where does standardised testing fit in? By making school a pressure cooker of academics at an age when kids should be learning how to enjoy learning and by making my seven year old daughter stand out by having her qualify for “special” reading help for reading like, well, a second grader when she was in second grade. By the end of grade two I was too dismayed by the educational system to allow either of my kids to participate in it any more. To be frank, many kids in my daughters school were held back at the end of grade two or worse, sent to grade three only to be sent back to grade two when they couldn’t make the grade, grade three of course being the all important year that standardised testing begins, and I was afraid this would happen to my daughter for no other reason than that she performed at grade level and that this would be the nail in the coffin of her dwindling self esteem.
But as it was we were moving to Canada and while I thought how different could the two systems in the two countries be, we decided to send our kids to the neighbourhood Catholic school. One more kick at the educational system can before homeschooling, right? Well there is a difference right there. Neighbourhood schools? Not in American inner cities. My son went to the neighbourhood public school for Kindergarten but he was the only kid in our neighbourhood who went to the neighbourhood school. Which may have had to do with the fact that the passing rate in standardised testing at the school was a dismal 57%, more because of the general quality of life issues for children who ended up at a regular public school in the downtown of a typical American city. Because of course the parents (like us! ) who really care about their kids either try to live in suburban areas with better schools, or send their kids to private schools, or tried to get their kids into magnet schools. So the better served kids get siphoned off. Truthfully we tried to enrol our son in parochial schools to but he has Asperger’s Syndrome and all special education services were provided through public schools. So instead we sent balls to the wall to get him into a magnet school which reputedly taught at an accelerated level, something that theoretically given the fact that he was reading chapter books in Kindergarten should have been easy, but since his teacher at the neighbourhood school was so distracted by the many kids in her class who had real reading problems, she had no idea the level at which my son read placing him on his recommendation forms at a reading level too low to qualify for the magnet school, regardless of how well he actually tested.( I know that according to the Fountas Pinell leveled book list that in kindergarten my son was reading at a level K. Heck I know there is something called a Fountas Pinell list. Note: I’m not a teacher. Thanks American Educational System!)
At any rate how different can her experience be? Two months after she started school we invited all the girls in her class to her birthday party and a strange thing happened. They all came. And they all brought her gifts having to do with fashion because they all knew that she loved fashion. Oh and did I mention no more uniforms? So she can dress in a way that expresses her personality. I also learned that she was ” the most popular girl in school” ( though naturally we stress that she must be nice despite her power). I don’t think she really is the most popular girl in school, but she’s happy and has lots of friends and her best friend gives her a big hug when she see’s her because they’re so happy to see each other after fourteen some odd hours separated and because at her present school her best friend is not embarrassed to be her best friend. Plus she’s doing reasonably well in school. Maybe because grade four is grade four. Most importantly, her personality is back and she actually likes reading. Even with ADD. I am the first person to say that introverts are under valued in our society, after all I’m an introvert and so is my sweet son. But my sweet daughter is and extrovert and when that goes away, something is very very wrong.