My first issue is with the definition of introversion as shyness. It's not the same thing. A quiet kid is not necessarily an introvert (though that is sometimes the case). Introversion has to do with being interested in the inner world of one's mind and being energized by solitude. It has to do with the need for introspection.
It does not, however, mean that they are anti-social, shy or self-absorbed (all stereotypes about introverts). Introverts can be loud, relational and social as long as they get the time to recharge and reflect.
But suppose it's an issue of shyness. Should quiet kids be asked to speak up in class? Should teachers still call on shy kids even though it causes anxiety? Is it fair to the quiet kids?
I'd argue that, yes, quiet kids should still be asked to speak up. After all, loud students who are incredibly social are often asked to be quiet. We don't say to a loud student, "Hey, because silence makes you anxious, we'll just have you skip silent reading and blurt out whenever you feel like it during direct instruction." We don't say, "Well, she's just naturally loud, so we'll let her talk every moment of the school day."
Why do we do the same thing with shy students?
I don't believe in punishing shy students academically because they are silent in the same way that a loud student shouldn't lose points because he or she blurts out answers. I'm not even sure that a talker and a non-talker should be punished at all.
However, I do see a value in both shy and loud students learning social skills. Yes, it can be painfully uncomfortable for a shy kid to speak up (I've been there) but it can also be necessary for personal growth. Shielding students from discomfort of large social interaction is as dangerous as telling a loud student that it's okay to bulldoze over everyone. A shy kid should learn to express his or her voice just as a constant talker should also learn to listen.
It's hard to believe, but I was a generally shy student in class. I used to get physically anxious at the thought of having to participate in a class discussion. However, I had a few brave teachers who knew that my momentary happiness was worth less than my character development. They pushed me to speak up. A few times, I awkwardly remained silent for the start of class presentations. It wasn't pleasant to stand there, hands trembling, my voice unable to propel itself forward.
Eventually, the fear subsided. I realized that my voice mattered. I learned to articulate myself in large groups. I began to raise my hand and participate in class discussions. I grew to enjoy giving a presentation in front of a group. It's why I can do a keynote and still feel confident.
I'm still introverted, but I'm not shy anymore. And that is due, in large part, to the teachers who pushed me to speak up and see the value in my voice.
photo credit: bronx. via photopin cc
John Spencer is a teacher, author, keynote speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About, a new social publishing platform due out this Fall. He is passionate about helping students find their voice as they grow into stronger writers and deeper thinkers.