Typically quiet students suffer in classes with participation grade

Danielle Bissonette

It’s a new semester, and you know what that means. New professors, new classes and a new syllabus for each—and with this oh so important document, the foreshadowing of all the work you will spend the next five months doing. Cue the stress. Immediately I jump to the course requirements. My heart drops as my eyes find those two terrifying words—class participation. 

Some are overjoyed to see those words. For them it’s easy, speaking up in class is second nature. But for others it’s the opposite. It instills crippling fear and sends anxiety levels through the roof. Class participation is the social butterfly’s dream but the shy introvert’s nightmare. From the first day of class shy, socially anxious and introverted students are immediately disadvantaged. In many courses, class participation comprises up to 30 percent of the student’s final grade. And for people who can’t speak up in class, that’s a lot of points to lose. 

Why are shy people being punished for their shyness? Why are we the disadvantaged? Sure, taking tests is difficult for some people, but often professors will offer a paper option. Where is the option for us? In my experience, when I’ve spoken to professors about my fear of talking in class they’ve taken the “get over it” approach. Their solution was to just call on me randomly…talk about making it worse. If I wouldn’t speak up when I was prepared and had a good idea, why on earth would I feel more comfortable being blindly called on? Clearly, they didn’t understand. And I couldn’t understand their insensitivity. 

I understand why professors place so much emphasis on class participation. They want us to learn from each other. They want us engaged and paying attention in class. They want students to carry the conversation, and they want us to have public speaking skills. But is it really right to cost shy students so much of their grade? And most shy students are engaged in class—they’re paying attention and often have really great ideas; they’re just too shy to share. 

So, why not let these students write the ideas they have during discussions down and turn them in at the end of class for their participation grade? That way they’re fully engaged in class and thinking about the topics, but not being penalized for their inability to share with the class. Why not level the playing field and give introverts a fair shot? This is all part of a bigger picture. Our society is dominated by loud, outgoing, in-your-face people. 

Even the University community is this way. Just look at our extracurricular scene. So many of the same people are in all of the “popular” clubs. And why is that? Because they don’t let you forget them. They’re not shy and have no problem talking. Most of the shy people I’ve encountered have had no trouble getting into clubs that require written applications but have been swiftly rejected from anything involving an interview. Who decided that being a little reserved is a bad thing and a disadvantage?

 Why are shy people, who often have incredible minds, always overlooked? Why should outgoing people rule the world? People often say that we live in a racist, sexist world, but I’d go so far as to argue that we live in an extroverted world where introverts are consistently discriminated against. When is being extroverted a bad thing? Never. But being introverted is constantly a shortcoming, especially in the classroom. And it’s not that we have nothing to say. We absolutely do. 

I’ve often had an idea that I’d love to share, but the crippling fear that accompanies articulating it in front of 20 others students and a professor shuts me down. It’s not something we can just get over as so many like to believe. We don’t choose to be shy, we just are, and therefore, we shouldn’t be penalized for it. Class participation is not fair, as it automatically gives an unfair advantage to extroverted students. A shy student could be the brightest in the class, but she will automatically lose up to 30 percent of her grade just because she’s afraid to participate. This isn’t right and needs to be challenged. People need to stop punishing shy, introverted people for being who they are and start being more understanding and accepting of their personalities.