Sunday, June 24, 2012

Introverted Learners Take Note!

Quiet by Susan Cain: A Book Review

Teachers and parents need to read this book before engaging in a program to "fix" a quiet, shy or sensitive child.  Adults who have been criticized from childhood for not being social enough or aggressive enough will finally find in Susan Cain somebody who understands and affirms their temperament.  Cain is both an introvert and a passionate advocate for the quiet souls in American schools and businesses.  She includes stories of real introverts, past and present, so readers can learn from their struggles and achievements.

Eleven well-researched chapters (50 pages of end notes) discuss the biology and psychology of temperament, offer practical advice for both introverts and extroverts about communicating with one another, and point out cultural differences (e.g. Asians value introverts while Americans marginalize them.) If this were not enough, Quiet also gives practical advice for structuring offices and classrooms so that introverted workers and students can think and create without being intimidated or overwhelmed. If you have been the victim of an open office floor plan or a "collaborative learning" classroom, Cain feels your pain!

I appreciate finally finding someone who does not consider introversion a disorder to be "cured" but an alternate, equally valid way of thinking and working.  Susan Cain understands how I could once pretend to love the loud, back-slapping atmosphere of a consulting environment while inwardly wishing I could just go work in my office with the door closed—forever!  She even includes a chapter about introverts and church.  I learned I'm not the only one who doesn't want to go to women's conferences where I have to play games, spill my guts to the whole class or engage in "team-building exercises."  Should I be considered less spiritual if I prefer just a few close friends or would rather work in the kitchen or library than teach a large group?

My one slight irritation was her use of Al Gore as one of her examples.  Yes, use him as an example of an introvert; however I don't think his inconvenient "truth" deserved two pages in this excellent book (especially since Susan Cain's positions are backed by more credible, non-politically-motivated research than Gore's.)  Otherwise her stories are winsome and cover a variety of cultures and lifestyles: immigrants, politicians, business leaders, lawyers and little children.  Her story at the end of the book about her grandfather was especially touching.  He was an introvert and a greatly loved rabbi.  I know I would have loved him, too!

Read an excerpt from Quiet to see if Susan Cain speaks to you. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Homeschooling: Power to the People!

Great article on the increase in homeschooling among African-Americans.  Parents have to be proactive and make the best choice for each child individually.  I'd like to thank the pioneers of homeschooling who spent the eighties lobbying and even going to jail so that today's parents have the advantage of legal homeschooling.  Thanks also to all the great publishers and writers who produce outstanding curriculum for independent learners.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Is Rich-Poor Gap a Result of the Information Age?

Charles Murray's latest book, Coming Apart,  explores the widening gap between the American upper class and lower class.  This gap is largely a result of cognitive sorting, a phenomenon described in an earlier book by Murray and Herrnstein (The Bell Curve.)  Because brains are worth big money in the information age and brainy people tend to marry and live among others like themselves, they are increasingly isolated from the rest of society.  Murray traces behavioral trends since 1963 that have made the United States a very different place from the country founded in 1776. 

From the beginning, America has taken pride in being a classless society, at least as classes existed in Europe and Asia.  When asked to describe themselves, Americans of most income levels have self-identified as "middle class" even if they were really among the working poor or the higher income brackets.  Until recently, pride kept the poor from admitting their struggles and propriety kept the rich from vulgar displays of wealth.  The celebrity culture, as seen on reality TV, and the entitlement mentality, e.g. the Occupy movement, are fairly recent developments.

The four key behaviors or "founding virtues" studied by Murray are: industriousness, honesty, marriage and religiosity.  His research into these four virtues shows alarming trends, given that these virtues have been shown to be tightly linked to economic success.  The new lower class is increasingly characterized by low rates of marriage, labor force participation and religious or civic engagement and by high rates of crime.  At the same time, the new upper class continues to marry, works long hours, and at least pays token visits to a house of worship—although they are reluctant to suggest these virtues to the lower class for fear of appearing judgmental.

Murray concludes with two possible scenarios.  The pessimistic view sees America fail as a republic when current trends continue.  The optimistic view hopes that advances in neuroscience and genetics will show unequivocally that the assumptions of the welfare state are faulty and cause real damage to the human mind and soul.  In this view, the welfare state is replaced by a return to the virtues that made America possible in the first place.

I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: The Resignation of Eve by Jim Henderson

When I picked up this book I was expecting to read about burnout among the hardworking female volunteers in our churches.  What I found instead was a quantitative and qualitative study of what women think about their roles in the church today.  The Barna Group did the quantitative part of the study.  Jim Henderson then found women in different locations and denominations and listened to their stories.  Henderson organizes these women into three groups: 

                1. resigned to accept their roles, including women who are content with being excluded from certain roles because they believe it is biblical and those who tolerate limitations as a trade-off they are willing to accept for the sake of harmony/husbands/children;
                2. resigned from the church, including women who went to parachurch organizations where they had greater freedom to use their gifts and women who were failed by the church (heartbreaking stories of abuse) and

                3. re-signed, including women who pushed back and carved out a niche in which they could use their gifts in service to the body of Christ.

I found this book to be thought provoking, especially since I am in a church where women play important roles, but are not ordained.  Since my spiritual gifts are not in any area that would require ordination, I had never really thought much about the issues this book raises.  Henderson challenges men and women to think about women's needs and women's gifts in light of how Jesus treated women. This is must reading for church leadership in every denomination, since Barna warns that service by adult women in churches declined 20-30% between 1991 and 2011.

I reviewed this book for Tyndale House publishers in return for a free copy of the book.