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Human Nature & Schools After COVID-19

by LeiLani Cauthen

There is a certain sector of tech companies and big investment houses touting that things for schools are “not coming back to normal.” They are right in one respect, but wrong in a much larger respect.

Let’s get into the tech company mindset, which is largely made up of engineering folks who are, and I realize this is slightly biased, mostly run by people best characterized as brilliant introverts.  Introverts base their innovation direction on a belief that technology can fully make up for the distance between humans, track everything, customize in very personal ways, and that human interface can be virtual virtually all the time. They believe this because they like it for themselves. They are also prone to be very capable of self-direction in learning and are very comfortable with being alone. Again, it’s not true of all on the tech side but an admirable generality. These are folks who have brought a lot of innovation, partly because of who they are, and partly because of how their minds work. 

Being mindful, analytical, and introverted while generally avoiding parties and banal chatter is most definitely not true of a large swath of other people. They like to party. Therefore, the assumption that many in tech are doing a show of victory dances for all online learning is false because of human nature. The nature of humans, to put it mildly, is still a new science area in terms of being widely understood and applied. Also, it’s newish in terms of it being an actual science, but that’s a topic for dispute as well as plenty of facts related to our human sciences being self-evidently well behind our physical sciences – additionally suggesting, why is there crime, poverty, etc.?

“To begin with, think of introversion and extroversion as opposite ends of a scale upon which most people lay right about mid-range with very few falling into either extreme. We can only guess at the percentage by compiling all of the recorded personality test results done in America and then extrapolate. I checked with my research team, and they feel comfortable saying about 60–70% are in the mid-range leaving (30-40%) fairly evenly divided on the two introvert/extrovert ends,” said Kim Mecklenburg, Certified Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, Ashford University in April 2018.  

This would mean that 15-20% are purely introverts, and another 15-20% are pure extroverts. Everyone else can be considered “ambivert,” riding down the middle. On certain things, people tilt more solidly introvertish or extrovertish, possibly depending on the weather or how much sleep they had the night before. If these are true general statistics, then we can also expect that some 15-20% of students are going to love online learning all the time, and some 15-20% will loathe it. Also, it can be expected that some percentage of the 60-70% in the middle could have opinions that fluctuate wildly from ambivalence to love or loathe. Probably most teachers who have been traditionally in the classroom lecturing are going to split along the same lines but more predictably on the extrovertish end, or else they would never have been lecturers in the first place.  

Other science points to the fact that introverts make up about 30-50 percent of the population. Still, it’s not all the people. And therein lies the conundrum schools are facing right now.  

First, the national quarantine explosion of online learning has been far from perfect. In some places, it didn’t happen at all as schools just shut down completely. For others, it was seamless. But the stories keep coming about parts of the population missing each other in physical proximity.  

What this means is that there is a high certainty we are going to find out that all learning isn’t going online forever. Also, there is high certainty it will be more online, but there will still be physical schools for innumerable reasons. But most importantly, it’s human nature. This is why we must help public schools become hybrids, not just run them over with fantastic professional learning online, and move to all parents being homeschoolers forever. The fact that there is better technology is true, and it’s also true that leveraging teachers for more of their humanity is what technology should be doing. Overwhelming them all with building documents and videos when professional-grade courseware, like the days of actual textbook use, exalts the humanity of teachers and should be the direction school leaders drive their policies. Stop trying to have every teacher everywhere build every single lesson by surfing the Internet and curating free stuff. It’s super costly while resulting in a wrecking of learning continuity and can’t possibly be personalized very well for each student. It’s too much work. Plus, it’s sort of boring pedagogically when you compare it to the professional-grade learning resources.

Signs are pointing to schools coming into a new age of not just complete technology immersion, but an artisan age of human-interface teaching, using our humanity with perfection at exact points and needs. This is a mastery moment of the humanities like never before – not just technology.  

There is an opportunity to also, for the first time, meet the introverts where they are.  

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, in 2012, “A former corporate lawyer and self-professed introvert Susan Cain argues that we live in a culture that is biased against introverts. Instead of embracing their serious, often quiet, and reflective style, they are encouraged to act like extroverts – those assertive, outgoing types that love teamwork, brainstorming, networking, and thinking out loud. This, she says, leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.” (From “So Begins A Quiet Revolution Of The 50 Percent,” Jenna Goudreau, Jan 30, 2012, 6:21 pm EST, Forbes.)  

Schools are going to see some students shine that didn’t before, possibly raising test scores across the board. For the extroverts, we may see the opposite happened in quarantine. Those may be the “AWOL” kids who refuse to show up because why bother if they can’t see their mates. As Eric Godfrey, Superintendent, Buckeye Union High School District in Arizona said on a Learning Counsel virtual discussion meeting on Apr 2, “One of the things that is starting to rise as a high school district is that parents and kids are worried about the social part of things. That’s one of our biggest challenges because our athletics and activities have been canceled. Our proms have been canceled. Our graduation ceremonies right now are in jeopardy of being canceled. Our senior award nights are being canceled. We’re starting to look for some creative ways to create some experiences for kids so that they can have those special moments still be special.”

As a piece of advice to all schools, be attentive to both your introverts and extroverts, and realize this moment is a large experiment that will show you things you might never have otherwise seen. Be confident that yes, schools will continue, but they will be different. It’s your moment to see human nature more clearly than you ever have before.

This article originally appeared on The Learning Counsel.

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