I felt compelled to respond to the nonsense that I woke up to this morning, so this post has been rather hastily put together and does get a bit ranty!
The latest report from the Sutton Trust, ‘A Winning Personality’ (using data from the BBC’s Big Personality Test) has found that those individuals who display personality traits associated with extroversion are more likely to come from privileged backgrounds and be in higher earning occupations. The suggestion is that if we ‘teach’ these traits we can somehow mitigate the impact of social deprivation.
(For the moment we’ll put to one side the radical idea that working harder to reduce social deprivation might be a more practical idea. We’ll also put to one side the argument that those from privileged backgrounds have a number of advantages over the rest of us that don’t involve personality. We’ll also put to one side the criticisms of the Big 5 theory of personality and personality theory in general. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the whole cause-effect-correlation-causation argument).
Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t had the opportunity to read the report yet so feel free to attack me in the comments (or if you prefer to attack me on Twitter, use my Twitter handle so I can at least respond or call in the cavalry).
First, a confession: I’m an introvert (more specifically I’m an INFP if you’re into that sort of witchcraft). I display classic introvert traits so in the language of personality theory I have this big label that tells me I’m an introvert. That’s fine; I don’t feel marginalised or oppressed just because there are people around me with bigger, bolder personalities. I listen rather than talk; I rarely (if ever) try to be the centre of attention; I’m not good at working in groups (unless I know the people first) and, although I do like to socialise, I’m more than content by myself or with small groups of close friends (I’m very low maintenance at dinner parties).
Does this make me a bad person?
Does this make me dysfunctional person?
Is this a fatal error in my personality that requires fixing?
These are the thoughts that ran through my mind when I read the different media reports this morning. I’m comfortable in my own skin, but that feeling comes with age. When I was a child I hated being called shy, with all its negative connotations. I hated it when people said that I needed to be ‘brought out of my shell’ (I like my shell – it’s warm and cosy in here). I tried at times to be more of an extrovert but the task was exhausting and trying to be somebody you’re not really does take its toll.
Young people often feel marginalised for many different reasons and being a teenager is fraught with the complex task of self-building. Adding personality to the mix is simply making a complex situation even more so and suggesting that a child can have the wrong personality will simply marginalise those who are unable to conform to the extrovert ideal. Teaching extrovert traits is unlikely to work anyway. The most likely outcome is compliance (pretending to be an extrovert) rather than internalisation (actually becoming an extrovert) and we know how damaging it can be to pretend to be something you’re not. I could begin a rant about character education here but I’ll leave that for another time.
How can we tell young people to ‘be themselves’ while at the same time suggesting that their personality is in someway defective?
And why do we always use earnings as a measure of success anyway? Surely there are many ways to be successful?
I’m hoping that this whole idea will just fade away but, then again, there are plenty of equally bad ideas in education that seem to be sticking around much longer than they deserve to.