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A Comfort's Food for Thought

Quiet Appreciation

August23

This summer I read a book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. As an introvert myself, but, ironically, one who can’t stop talking, I found the title intriguing. A trend in education today is toCapture4 use collaborative learning in the classroom. Advocates contend that it prepares students for the workplace (making me wonder how today’s employees adapted to working in groups without the use of this technique during their years of education). Other claimed benefits are better retention of knowledge and the production of more creative ideas.

Group learning is designed for extroverts, people who like to talk and who are energized by being with other people. Introverts, on the other hand, are more sensitive to sights and sounds, and tend to withdraw when over-stimulated by being with groups of people. They are energized by being alone with their thoughts. Extroverts are spontaneous, speaking out immediately, while introverts are more thoughtful and deliberate. Introverts don’t share their ideas with just anyone. Thus, even without the explicit use of group learning, classroom education is designed for extroverts. The classroom itself is a large space with many students. Class participation is highly valued. Students who do not raise their hands to answer questions are encouraged to do so to get a good class participation grade. It is difficult to give time for quiet reflection. After all, how can one think deeply about a problem or a new idea with so many people all around?

Susan Cain says both experience and research demonstrate that group work does not necessarily lead to better learning and more creativity. In fact, observation of group dynamics reveals that the first to speak (the extrovert) usually gets his way, whether his idea is the best or not. Group brainstorming actually leads to conformity. Better students often dislike group projects because either they end up doing all the work (with everyone else sharing the credit) or they cave in to group-think and settle for mediocrity.

So what is the answer?  Should we stop using group learning techniques?  I don’t think so.   Educators need to meet the needs of all students, both the extro-  and introverted ones. However, at a time when extroversion is so valued and promoted, parents and teachers need to be sensitive to the needs of quieter students. We need to understand, accept, and value them. We need to recognize, for example, that class participation doesn’t consist only of speaking up and answering questions. An introvert’s quiet, focused attention on the subject being taught may be more productive than the extrovert’s facile but somewhat off-topic comments during class discussion. Certainly introverts need to learn to cope in a society that values extroversion. They need to know when and how to speak up and be assertive. But we need to affirm and nurture the positive side of their quiet nature—their sensitivity, loyalty, and thoughtfulness.

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Facing the Enemy

July31

It has been five weeks since we made the decision to discontinue chemotherapy. Last night friends asked us to come over for ice cream and a discussion of how we are facing death. That is a really good question. We have never spent weeks or months taking care of someone who was dying. We have not had any lessons in how to do it. A few friends who have had this experience have been brave enough to give us words of advice—I say brave because I think it must be hard to risk offending someone who is already hurting. I can only say for myself that I have received all advice and encouragement in the love with which it has been extended. I can’t remember anyone saying anything that offended me. What I do remember are the times of fellowship and friendship that have allowed us to feel normal in spite of all the necessary emphasis on Ted’s physical trials.
Our friends last night felt they were taking a risk asking us to speak about death. It is not a topic people are comfortable discussing! I hope our discussion helped them. I know it was therapeutic for me to talk about it and to hear their perspective. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that in some ways I think I am still in denial. These friends, who have faced the lingering deaths of several family members, assured me that this is normal.
Certainly we are not in intellectual denial. Ted has been much more intentional this past year in teaching me all the many household routines he has always handled. In July we began making necessary arrangements with the funeral home. August 1st we met with our pastor to plan the funeral service. I see Ted daily growing weaker, and I know the end must come eventually.
We are ready spiritually as well. Ted has incredible peace. Back in 1970, Ted was an atheist who thought he had no need for a belief in God. Another scientist at his workplace knew of his lack of faith and encouraged him to study the Bible. Within a few months, Ted became convinced of the reality of a self-existing God, and after several more months of Bible study, he accepted God’s gift of salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross.
Ted is a man of great discipline. His regularity in doing his exercise routines and in other areas of life is also true in his prayer and Bible reading schedule. He has read the Bible through many times, including this year. His trust in the goodness of God through all experiences of life has helped him in this time of trouble.
Emotional readiness has been the hardest battle for us. When we were first confronted with the devastating diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, I made it one of my goals to look for the joy. I began to post Ted’s progress regularly on CaringBridge, an iternet site to help people keep in touch with friends and family with health issues.  Sometimes I have felt that our CaringBridge journals might sound unrealistically cheerful—but each entry has been an honest expression of what we have been going through, even though we left out some of the pain and tears. We have kept our sense of humor, we have enjoyed lots of good times, and we have shed tears and experienced the depths of sadness as well. There are many moments when I think of losing Ted and I feel I will never be able to be happy again. Then a visit with friends, or the smell of fresh air blowing through our house, or the sight of some unusually beautiful clouds in the sky will bring joy to my heart, and I know that God will be faithful to me in the future as He has been in the past.
So, how are we able to face death with peace? Well, emotionally we are not always at peace. Although we believe in the sovereignty of God and His care for us, we also view death as the enemy. Man was created in the image of God and was intended to live eternally. Our world is broken by sin, and therefore we experience suffering—and we are suffering! The Bible is a comfort to us. We read there that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that God would remove the necessity of His own death. Our emotions are normal and understandable. Ultimately, our trust is in God and our hope is a future in heaven with Him.

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I am a Christian, a mother and grandmother, a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a widow, a friend. . .  My life is first of all defined by relationships–to God, to my family, to my students, to my friends. Of course, I am many other things: a reader, an e-mail writer, a piano player, and a somewhat reluctant traveler, for example.  And now I am a blogger.  I’m not sure why, except it seems to be a logical next step for someone addicted to e-mail.

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