Phi Beta Cons

Teamwork and Solitude: A Delicate Balance

Those who follow the prevailing pedagogical trends have for some time observed that, as Susan Cain writes, “solitude is out” and “collaboration is in.” Cain, the author of the forthcoming book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, cites research indicating that solitude is in fact an indispensable impetus to creativity and learning and that people are more innovative when they work privately and autonomously.

The mindless, detrimental extremes to which a dogmatic acceptance of teamwork can lead is illustrated by what Cain witnessed in one classroom — a group-work project in which students were not permitted to ask a question unless every member of the group posed the exact same question.

The thrust here, however, is by no means to eliminate collaboration but rather to restore a more balanced approach to creativity, one that incorporates the altogether natural and invaluable habit of learning to work on one’s own for uninterrupted periods. Within this context, Cain points to studies suggesting that important academic work is more and more carried on by teams but that, interestingly, the most influential of these achievements involve members consulting remotely, from separate universities.

Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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