There are sixteen personality types. The type that thinks most out of the box is ENFP. They are very very open to new things, so new ideas hit them all the time, and ideas hit this type of person in an emotional, visceral kind of way, which makes it hard to fit the idea into another person’s mold of how to organize ideas.
You know this type of person in the world as an artist, consultant, teacher – a creative problem solver who inspires other people to do great things by bringing them along on the ENFPs wild ride.
We love our kids because they show us the world from a different perspective. The ENFP kid is this times ten. Parents adore their kids who are like this, but then something happens: everything gets impossible for the ENFP. Because school is almost impossible for this kind of kid. (Here’s a test to find out if your kid is an ENFP.)
You can look through the list of typical professions for an ENFP – writer, engineer, musician, counselor, public speaker — it’s the list of people most likely to earn a ton of money but tell everyone they were terrible in school.
A good example of ENFP way of thinking is captured in the book The Art of Cleanup: Life Made Neat and Tidy. The book is full of reorganized food.
You start to see the pattern – innovative and charming. Here’s what the authors did with alphabet soup:
The gap between performance in the real world and performance in school for the ENFP is important because for many kids, poor performance in school makes them believe they are unable to perform anywhere else.
I recently received a copy of a unpublished dissertation from the Debra Sanborn at the School of Education at University of Iowa called Myers Briggs Type Indicator Relationship with Academic Success in the First College Semester. The paper shows that ENFP’s are unlikely to graduate from college. The paper describes the independent thinker tendencies of an ENFP.
This type of person is unlikely to be interested in ideas with only one correct answer or in getting good grades. They are motivated by more meaningful things like ideas they care about and people they have a connection to. This is true of everyone, to some extent, but an ENFP is so fundamentally different when it comes to learning that they are simply unsuited for the school environment where people tell them what to learn and how to express what they have learned.
There are lots of implications for this research. The dissertation I read focuses on how to use mentors to ensure that these ENFP kids graduate college.
Like many pieces of research we’ve discussed on this blog (this Ted talk, for instance) the natural conclusion of the research is that kids should not be in school. But most people who do research are too scared to draw that conclusion even if all their research supports it.
The idea that ENFPs should get mentors in college makes the wild assumption that ENFPs belong in college. If an ENFP were allowed to engage in self-directed learning as a child, the adult ENFPs would know how to channel their energy productively, instead of struggling to allow professors to direct their energy.
The other implication here is that we can isolate types of children who definitely should not be in school. We understand the personality traits of this type of child and why they will not succeed in school, and we understand through a wide range of research that these are the type of people who enter the workforce least prepared to succeed at work because school is the least useful to them.
The problem with universal education is that we can’t single out these kids to give them a different type of education, because we’d have to customize school for all different types of students, which we have no funding to do, at all, in this country.
What this tells us is that parents have enough information to know that some children absolutely should not be in school. We have the research to support this. We just have no mechanism for putting this research out into the public because the only thing it will do is show that our schools are inadequate, that some kids won’t succeed, and some parents are making systematically poor decisions for their kids.
A recent survey conducted by IBM shows that today’s CEOs think the most important trait for leadership in the future is creativity. It is so not surprising that the trait most necessary for success in the workplace is the one most squashed by school. ENFPs are notoriously creative – more than anyone else. And we are teaching them to think of it as a liability. It’s the kids who have the luck of being removed from this environment who will grow up to be the world’s leaders.
Parents can sit around and wait for all this research to become public in the same way that we waited 40 years for the hazards of cigarette smoking to become public, but it’s irresponsible.
We know enough to know that school is bad just like in 1980 we knew enough to know that cigarettes are bad. We also know that people squash research that doesn’t support what they want. The fact that kids who are ENFP’s are unable to succeed in a school environment should be enough for all parents to worry. We have evidence that boys are squashed in school. Girls are squashed in school. Gay kids are squashed. Kinesthetic learners are squashed. Gifted kids are squashed.
The list reads like the list of evidence that we let accumulate before the lawsuits started beating the cigarette companies. It was incredible how strong the evidence was against them. It was incredible that we were not convinced earlier.
How long does the list of research have to get before you believe that every kid is squashed in school?