Section: Opinion

Participation grades favor extroverts

The first day of classes is my least favorite. Not just because finding a suitable fun fact about myself is my personal version of hell, but because I know that when I turn those crisp white pages of the syllabus, I will find that some portion of my grade will be based on an arbitrary definition of class participation that I find difficult to adhere to. Even for the sake of a grade, I’ve never been able to fake an extroverted personality.

Education, academia and the world at large have always valued extroversion. We love leaders who will stand up and talk, even if they’re talking over everyone else. The quiet strength of introverts often goes unnoticed. I understand how appealing the former is, as we tend to associate louder personalities with people who “know what they’re talking about.” But in reality, they might just be someone who will give an answer, regardless of knowledge. Try as I might when I was younger, I just couldn’t seem to become an extrovert. The attempt alone was exhausting.

Certainly, participation grades might not completely make or break the final letter, but they provide a nice cushion for chatty students that introverted, quiet, shy and anxious students miss out on. Even if two students are equally matched in assignment gradings, a more outspoken student will still receive a higher grade, even if the two students have an identical understanding of the material. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of presenting one’s ideas. I know that success in many fields involves the ability to clearly communicate an idea. I know that some extroverted students feel their ideas are best expressed verbally, and that is how they stay engaged in the conversation. For students such as myself, the stress of trying to contribute an educated response to the discussion means I’m more focused on what I’m going to say, instead of on how the conversation is progressing.

In their article, “Class Participation Penalizes Quiet Learners,” for Quiet Revolution — a website based on Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking — Emily J. Klein and Meg Riordan captured my feeling to a T: “Participation becomes a motivator for a portion of expressive, extroverted students and a roadblock for less verbally communicative, but no less knowledgeable or interested, learners.”

I don’t understand why class participation is limited to adding to the class verbally; you can be completely engaged in a conversation without ever saying a word. Year after year, I read every assignment, I highlight copiously and I take reading notes. I know the material. Yet, somehow, if I don’t speak in the class, I am discredited, as if I didn’t learn just as much as those two or three students who monopolize the conversation day after day. It’s not that I’m checked out of the class. I am fully engaged in the conversation, even if I haven’t made my presence known.

I understand that it’s hard to decipher which students are naturally quiet and which are just bored. I’m not asking for a free pass, just a different way of thinking. Not every student works or thinks in the same way, and generic grading can be damaging to students who aren’t accommodated. If we continue to educate with a focus on conversation instead of comprehension, we are cementing the notion that verbal communication is the hallmark of an educated mind — an idea that overlooks the incredible wealth of writing, music and art created on this Hill and beyond.

Reagan Neviska ’17 is an anthropology major from Fredericktown, Ohio. Contact her at neviskar@kenyon.edu.

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