Thanks to all who left nice comments on the post yesterday about science blogs vs. academic culture blogs. I still feel like I don't understand why, given the number of science blogs in existence, some people think that this particular blog should have more scientific content. Does it mean this blog is less rigorous? Scientists should write about Science? And so on.
But today I want to talk about something else. I recently encountered an extremely talkative colleague, and this conversation, combined with an event during my summer visit to the ancestral home, made me think about the issue of Talkativeness.
During my visit to the home of my youth, my father made a brief appearance and gave me a photocopy of a page of notes he took at Parents’ Night at my school when I was in 9th grade.
The only time that parents met teachers was during an evening at the school, typically in the late fall or early winter, after we’d been in school for months. On this one night, parents went to the school en masse (and sans kids) to walk the halls of the school, gaze at our desks, and meet the teachers. Parents talked for a few minutes with each teacher while other parents milled about nearby, waiting their turn.
I don’t know for sure of course, but it wouldn’t surprise me if no other parent took notes at these events. (background info/abridged history of my father’s career: Navy → seminary/ministry → engineering). He had already morphed into an engineer when he took the notes in a little pocket notebook, no doubt using one of the many pens he carries around in his front pocket.
Here is what my father wrote down about me during one of these meet-and-greet events with my teachers in 9th grade:
SCIENCE, 97%: Good work. Gets along with other kids. Doesn’t talk much. Doesn’t appear to be afraid of teacher. Will answer direct questions.
ENGLISH, 99%: Very quiet. Highest grade. Excellent writing. Doesn’t talk much to teacher. Talks to friends.
In 7th or 8th grade, a teacher asked my parents: “Does she have teeth?”, wondering if my reluctance to speak in class related to a dire dental problem.
Seeing these notes reminded me of just how annoying it was that everyone focused so much on my quietness, assuming it was unhealthy. I loved school, I had friends, and I was involved in numerous activities (school sports team, school newspaper etc.). If a teacher initiated a conversation with me, I had no trouble conversing.
I was quiet, but (in my opinion) not in a dysfunctional way. In the opinion of my teachers, however, I was too quiet. I know this from what my parents told my teachers, as duly recorded by my father in his notes, and I know it because my teachers used to try to bring me "out of my shell", a phrase I have always loathed. The attempts typically involved public humiliation, and I found them counterproductive.
My youthful experiences as a quiet person taught me a few things:
- Many people assume that quiet people are stupid and/or disturbed. Quiet people are not necessarily stupid or disturbed; they may be or they may not be, just like people who talk easily and/or a lot. The lack of correlation between intelligence and talkativeness has been important to remember during my experiences teaching and advising, especially in classes that require student participation or when advising a quiet/shy student in a research project.
- As long as someone can communicate at some level, there is no need for extraordinary measures to make them talk more. Humiliation is not a good method for encouraging a student (or anyone) to talk more.
- People who are quiet are not necessarily bad teachers or bad speakers. There may be no correlation between ability to speak in social settings and ability to speak to a class or professional audience. I have always enjoyed public speaking, even during my most intensely shy years. In contrast, some very outgoing people may be terrified of public speaking.
- Being quiet/shy as a child may actually be good preparation for later life, contrary to what teachers, parents, and others typically assume. I think it made me somewhat stubborn, or at least reinforced that trait. In my youth, I preferred to be quiet -- it felt right to me, and didn't seem like something that needed radical alteration. Over the years, I've been told that I needed to change things about myself to succeed -- my personality (not aggressive enough), my appearance (not old/serious/tall/well-dressed enough), my voice (too soft, too female) etc., but I always felt that I could succeed by working hard, caring about my work, and being smart enough.
I have learned that it's OK to be quiet and/or shy, as long as the shyness is not so extreme as to make all human interaction painful and difficult.
Something else I (re)learned on my recent trip to the ancestral home:
- My mother married a man who is even more strange than the men her sisters married, and this gives me pause.
A colleague recently told me that my posts have been rather long lately, so I will stop here for now, but I have more to write (but not say aloud) about this topic.
7 months ago