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What I don’t like about schools

Everyone has different experiences with schools and the education system. Mine isĀ  – all things considered – a neutral one. And yes, I can’t believe I’m saying this! Both the early school years and the later ones at university held for me disappointments and struggles as well as excitement and joys.

The struggles are primarily related to being a shy introvert. I’m fortunate to live in a society where you are not expected to speak a lot in class and can get away with contributing minimally. As a rule. But sometimes there are exceptions and I have received lower grades for my refusal to contribute or my very small contributions. Is this fair? As fair as slower students losing points on timed tests and nervous ones experiencing a drop in their thinking capacity during high-pressure exams.

It may amuse people to know that when I pick my subjects for the next semester, I do not make the choice – provided I have any choice – based on which subjects interest me more, but based on whether there are presentations and whether the grade includes participation in discussions. If it does, there is no way I will elect this subject. I have no problem with class participation in language classes or mathematics, for example. I can easily read out grammar sentences, getting it wrong does not mortify me to the point of wanting the ground to swallow me.

Quite a different matter is any class involving proper discussion or less straight-forward questions (e.g history, politics, sociology). Let us take a classic literature class. I love literary discussions and am always involved in my mind, but I’m not a good contributor. I need time to prepare my answer, so when I’m suddenly asked, I rarely can think of anything to say on spot. Anything sensible, that is. So I say something dumb and not representative of my real understanding of the subject. And then I feel really bad, because no one knows I actually understand. All they have is that impression based on my poor verbal performance. The grade is appropriate too, naturally. Although in my country, many professors and teachers have actually shown understanding and not been as strict as they could have with me. I appreciate you and am grateful.

What I’ve actually started doing to cope with this situation is to try to get through presentations and discussions with extremely low expectations on myself. Otherwise, persistent under-perfomance starts getting to me. I no longer tell myself to do well, I tell myself that it’s a success if you get through the ordeal without any blush-worthy statements.

I wish that one day the education system would learn to offer different assessment methods for introverts and extroverts. The latter love participation and presentations and do very well there, but may not be particularly stellar on paper. Introverts are the opposite. Why not let both types express their knowledge in forms best suited to their temperaments.

Have all these class participation things made me a better public performer? Absolutely not. Every situation is different and while I may eventually get the hang of doing presentations without my hands shaking, spontaneous participation in class will never be my thing and I’ve seen no improvement in that particular arena.