Is your smart kid destined to fail?

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I recently received a copy of a unpublished dissertation from the  Debra Sanborn at the School of Education at University of Iowa called Myers Briggs Type Indicator Relationship with Academic Success in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?


51 replies
  1. cortney
    cortney says:

    this makes me think i was a born enfp who went intp due to trauma. it’s still not working out!

  2. Holly Fuller
    Holly Fuller says:

    Thank you for writing this. As an ENFP I hated (to understate school) but everyone always finds that so shocking since I am very social and am an avid reader who love learning new things.

  3. Lizarino
    Lizarino says:

    “How long does the list of research have to get before you believe that every kid is squashed in school?” This makes me sad.

    This is almost like the movie the Matrix. Two choices: blue pill (for those who are deluded to believe they can change the education system and hurt their kids by keeping them in classrooms) or the red pill (where parents wake up and remove their kids from this environment and live in freedom). I’ve taken the red pill and it’s sad to see those still living in “the matrix”. The agents are the establishments telling everyone that the education system is fine, everything is great, you can’t live without it, your children won’t succeed. Then there are people like us, who speak out and try to bring down the system and wake the people up… or not… it was just a thought.

  4. Emily Kramer
    Emily Kramer says:

    Thank you Penelope for this illuminating post. Actually, this explains so much of my challenges in the world that I want to wrap it up and give it as a gift to my parents to whom I’ve always been a total conundrum. And probably to most of my past bosses to, who have had to tolerate my wide ideas.

    It’s so true that the feeling of not doing well in school was a big downer and impacted me so much when I got out of school. I managed to do a lot of independent work as soon as I graduated but I didn’t have all the strength I needed to combat naysayers when my ideas got criticized. So I went the traditional job route for about five years and I really wish I had known better.

    Now when I look back at my life I am almost completely sure that it’s impossible for me to work in an environment structured by other people. And I can’t tell you how much that seems like a privileged point of view but is in fact something I have to accept in order to move forward in my life. I have to be working at the edge, otherwise my brain just numbs out and I can’t succeed.

  5. Shashsel
    Shashsel says:

    This is so validating to me.

    I always did well in school until I got into high school math and science, and then had to be tutored in physics and pre-calculus (which, to this day, remain totally irrelevant to my life). I was able to get into a great college, UCLA, and once there, was the least engaged student out of anyone I know. All I did was party with friends and do the crossword puzzle during classes. I picked a major that allowed me to get A’s and B’s while doing minimal work and leaned heavily on more engaged friends to get me through. I still feel that the best part of having gone to college was the friends I made and ultimately, the fact that I can list UCLA on my resume. Beyond that, almost no part of my college education is applicable to my career.

    Once I graduated I began a career in HR and have excelled, way beyond most of my peers who were so much more motivated than I was during school. And to this day, I still have trouble having structure thrust upon me, or working on projects that I am not interested in.

    Having read your homeschool blog, I sometimes wonder how much further accelerated my career might be if I’d spent four more years working instead of in school – except for the fact that I often think its the “well rounded” UCLA degree that got me in the door at my first interviews. Which is sad.

  6. karelys
    karelys says:

    If the answer for good education lies in homeschooling I wonder how we can make it so it becomes pretty mainstream. Is it even possible to reform culture so that people will cut spending in certain aspects to allow for one income to be abandoned in the pursuit of homeschooling children?

    We will also need to teach parents how to be homeschooling parents because it’s pretty scary to have huge swaths of unstructured time.

    And then there’s the bills. And the work load. If one spouse is earning and there’s an understanding that whoever is earning money is doing the worthwhile job or “supporting the family” then there will be a huge strain in the relationship. It would be hell, as a kid, to be homeschooled with unhappy parents.

    I get. Homeschooling is the superior choice. Now, how do we make it doable?

    • Lizarino
      Lizarino says:

      Hey Karelys,

      Homeschool is already mainstream, but I think I know what you are trying to say. How do we make it the first resort for education. I think we can start by having all those who can afford to live on one income, or where one parent can work from home take their kids out of public school and homeschool them. If we all did that then I think it potentially will trickle down to all income brackets, regardless if both parents work or even work two or three jobs. A lot of culture’s already have 3 generations living in the same house so they don’t need school for babysitting, they usually have a grandma or someone living with them who can do that, then they can school whenever. Kids naturally want to learn…. so huge swaths of unstructured time is actually great for learning. And the panic eventually wears off… I never thought I would homeschool, now I can’t imagine it any other way.

      Just a potential solution… not sure how to make it viable without some sort of loud voice with media connections.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        I will be taking time to look into how to do a co-op.

        Way before I knew much about homeschooling/unschooling I read in Psychology Today about “Natural Learning Schools” that have been around in our country since the 40s. Essentially, kids are dropped off to a school that is divided into reading spaces and playing outside spaces, etc. There are teachers so when kids need help with something or have questions the teachers are there. Also, to make sure everyone is in one piece.

        But you have 14 year olds hanging out with 9 year olds figuring out how to build a remote control cart that can carry people. That kind of thing. Everyone learns at their own pace.

        I like that idea because if I had that then my kid could learn from the fully or partially formed ideas that other kids have. Also, socializing with people in different stages of life.

        If parents are already willing to pay for daycare and to pay for private school (and those are the parents more willing to homeschool since they care so much for education but can’t drop one income) then bringing something like this to where I live may work.

        At any rate, if you can work from home while raising kids at some point you will want to hire a sitter or some sort of help because raising kids on your own and earning an income is ridiculously hard and maddening. Not only that but sometimes I am concerned that if I keep my kid at home there won’t be enough different ideas, different points of view, different content in general, to challenge how he (and the whole family) thinks.

  7. Angela Swafford
    Angela Swafford says:

    I am a 35-year old ENFP, who has had to develop my I, S, T, and J in order to get anywhere in life — that is, anywhere “tangible” to others…and to myself to some extent.

    ENFPs don’t need to be pulled out of school, they just need to understand that there are other ways to go about things. They can accomplish more of their goals if they try to balance their ENFP traits with a more reserved, concrete, analytical, and decisive approach to life. I believe ENFPs can find this balance and still retain their authenticity, joie de vivre, and creativity.

    Is this a complex thing for a young mind to grasp? Absolutely. But if any personality type can handle the complexity of it all, it is the ENFP.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is great advice for adults. I think all adults are better off if we can temper our personality traits to be not so extreme.

      As for kids – helping kids to address the extreme aspects of their personality would, of course, be customized education. It would be great, but impractical for a universal education system.


      • Angela S.
        Angela S. says:

        I do agree with you, Penelope. And I absolutely respect what you and other homeschooling parents are doing for your children. My perspective is one of a person who grew up in a mostly single-parent household, so it’s difficult for me to imagine having such a high level of encouragement and freedom to “just be me.” In fact, I think it would have created a monster – not a mean monster, of course, just a somewhat narcissistic and entitled one. I would have been relishing in my daydreams all the time and telling people in a cute but ornery way that I am perfect/wonderful/great just the way I am. 

        In my opinion, it’s best for ENFPs to be exposed to the big wide world and learn how to adapt and function well within it. And I’m sure I think this because I had to adapt, especially in secondary school, because no one was there to help me apply to, or pay for, college. I ended up getting a full scholarship and succeeding in school. At those times when school was tough or boring, I energized myself with dreams about what my life would be like when I took it to the next level. No one set goals for me except myself and I was fueled by that ever-burning ENFP desire to see, do, and experience life. I believe it is that desire, coupled with our constant need to know and understand (as much as possible!), that will compel an ENFP to overcome obstacles, adapt to their world, and accomplish something…even if they didn’t get an education that was ideal for their personality type.

  8. Jana @ 333 Hand Lettering Project
    Jana @ 333 Hand Lettering Project says:

    I’m teaching a group of fifth graders how to blog. I’m doing this with kids who are low and underachievers. Some of the lowest kids are doing the best.

    I wanted to do this because these kids have no chance that their parents will homeschool them. They perform poorly in school and are getting further and irther “behind”.

    They need something to look forward to in the school day. and they need feedback.

    One little boy, who’s penmanship looks like a 2nd grader has written 12 blog post this week.

    I believe in homeschooling but in the meantime I’m throwing starfishes back in the ocean one at a time.

    • Lizarino
      Lizarino says:


      I really commend you for all that you do to help those kids. These are the most vulnerable of our society where perhaps homeschool can never be an option for them. If people took their children out of school to educate them at home instead, then wouldn’t there be more resources available to help the ones that need it the most?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Jana, I live in a school district where there’s no chance the parents will take their kids out. And I see how much help those kids need. I am not sure how to help them. But I know letting them write what they want to write would be a great start. (And to Lizarino’s point, I know taking rich kids out of school would be good too — more resources for the kids whose parents can’t help them.)


    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Ok, I love this.

      I can picture doing something like this in my town.

      Also, I have a friend who helps run the “Free Lab” in NYC. It’s very interesting and I love that it’s separate from the school’s agenda and money (so people won’t want to set up all kinds of rules for kids’ learning).

  9. Taylor M
    Taylor M says:

    I’m a 26 year old ENFP. I never liked school much. Instead I did all I could to try to like it, including taking on teachers in debates and the like. I made life more interesting by making terrible decisions on the weekends.

    I sailed by in school on smarts and a photographic memory, until, like Shashsel, said, I got to physics and calculus in my freshman year of college and quickly rerouted from Pre Med to film making to communications to journalism. I did manage to graduate.

    My school history was a serious of distractions I created for myself to cope with the blandness of my “studies.” If I wasn’t changing something about my situation all the time I was bored and unhappy. To my parents’ credit, they filled my weekends and summers with outside-the-box experiences and overseas vacations. I thank them for nurturing my curiosity.

    Today I’m a shareholder in a family restaurant business for which I do full time marketing/communications. I’m involved in thinking about the long road we’re on, redesigning tired websites, creating advertisements, developing internal communications systems, event planning and day-to-day operations. No day is the same, it never gets old and I’m I’m love with my job.

    I’m one of the lucky ENFPs I guess. I made it through the school system with a very supportive family, and I’m still supported in my career pursuits. If it wasn’t for that though, I hate to think where I might have ended up.

    ENFPs need the freedom to work the way they feel fit in their environments. The classroom environment is rigid and repetitive and expectations are met through multiple choice testing. You’re absolutely correct in saying that public schools are doing a disservice to certain types of students.

    • Angela S
      Angela S says:

      Taylor – It sounds like you get to call a lot of the shots in your current role. How do you think that plays into your job satisfaction? Would you still love your job if you had to have the majority of your ideas approved by someone else prior to implementing them? Or if someone else was the primary creative force in the organization and your job was to implement THEIR ideas?

      I think that having decision-making authority and some level of autonomy is hugely important to ENFPs, regardless of whether we have interesting or “creative” jobs.

      • Taylor M
        Taylor M says:

        I totally agree that being in a decision making, or at least decision-associated position is hugely important for the ENFP. I don’t get to make a final call on anything, but I do have influence and my opinion is valued, which is hugely important to me.

  10. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I wasn’t a genius, but I would say I was smart enough. What I lack in any level of intelligence, I make up for in persistence. I did fine in school, but probably because I am an ESFJ. I like structure. I didn’t necessarily like “others” structure though, because it wasn’t properly organized – I often thought the teachers needed my help. I was a Teacher’s Aid and worked in the office because it was satisfying. The same with paper/yearbook. I think those roles were why I didn’t mind school.

    Today I spent all day archiving my kids’ work from last year, clearing off shelves, pulling out, and researching books for them to read next year, clearing clutter – it was heavenly.

    Two of my three kids (ESFJ, ISTJ) love structure; they don’t need to create it for themselves. They are fine following whatever structure another puts into play as long as it makes sense to them. Sometimes they arrange it in their own way.

    My oldest wilted in school as an ENFJ. She needed more open time. Work, go for a walk, work, sit and talk, work, make a meal, work, sketch or journal…she does school until the evenings on most days because she doesn’t want to hurry…ever.

    While I enjoyed a day organizing and archiving, clearing the clutter, she was lost in her music and painting.

    That is why homeschool is perfect for us. It fits every personality in the house as long as my husband and I remember to stay cognizant of their personalities and needs.

  11. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    Certainly if one tried to customize school for all different types of students, one would probably have to work with other belief systems besides MB. That would make it even more complicated.

    That said, sixteen different FMECAs for the ways school fails sixteen different MB classifications would be fascinating.

  12. Joanna
    Joanna says:

    Once you wrote, that school is good only for ISTJs. I am an ISTJ and did not feel good at school. OK, maybe my parents and my sister were worse than school, but still, I was always the outcast. I was insanely bored, even in my class of child prodigies.
    Anyway, what I wanted to tell you. It might be true, that school was designed for people like me. But I am still going to do whatever I can to homeschool my kids. I decided that about five years ago, when I had no idea about MBTI and very little about homeschooling. And when I did not yet have any children.
    I think the scale was tipped by a lecturer who claimed that Marks’ philosophy is good and something different than marksism (which is bad) and nobody exept me thought there was something wrong with that thinking or at least worthy questioning. There were 150 future teachers in the room.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s funny that you bring up that post, because I learned a lot in the comments from that post. Mostly from people who were good at school saying it didn’t mean that school was good for them.

      Actually, in the study I cite here — about Myers Briggs Types – the researchers say that school caters to ISTJ types. But what I also have learned, since I first read that, is saying that school caters to any type is ridiculous. It’s not like ISTJs are so stupid and uncreative that they need to be told what to learn. It’s that if there is going to be forced education, ISTJs are the ones most likely to be able to conform. But there’s a flip side to that, which is that it’s not helping any ISTJs to learn to conform to forced education, because ISTJs are great at creating order and solving problems, but they should get to work on what interests them, just like everyone else.


      • Ms. Liza
        Ms. Liza says:

        I actually have the hardest time with the conforming kids. I hate it when a student shows me their work and asks for my approval, often before it is finished! I ask students what they think of it first because I want them to think for themselves, feel comfortable with taking risks and make the decisions that are best for them.

  13. Erika
    Erika says:

    I’m about to graduate as an engineer in Belgium, while living in China. As a 100% ENFP, school has been a hell of a ride.

    How I survived, learned from it and actually turned the situation into an advantage;
    – At a young age I would cry, scream, curse, fight and hold on to the car seat so my mom could only go back home with me; bitter victory.
    – When growing up I would just stay in my bed while my mom thought I left for school. First there were fights, then there was acceptance; sweet victory. If you really hate school; stand your ground! Parents don’t want to see their child suffer and will eventually give in. Prove that you can be independent and take responsibility for your life, at any age!
    – I got super creative in skipping obliged classes/labs, writing – legit – sick notes or for religious or whatever reasons, in disappearing for extended periods without affecting my grades and in getting myself out of icky, messy situations I worked myself into.
    – I was living in other countries all by myself (learned Spanish, Russian and a bit of Chinese along the way), working, starting up organizations and leading them, while people were wasting their time at school. I started up a company (which failed ’cause of lack of focus; my current training) and teached myself how to learn anything. I just come back from my adventures to do my exams. If I would skip all this, major depression and drama was my friend.
    – I tried to crack the code for exams. Often I would study only two chapters of a 800page mechanics book and still easily pass (I don’t have high IQ!). Minimal effort, maximum outcome = my diploma. This made teachers really pissed. A lot of teachers are also really offended if you don’t attend their classes.
    – In the beginning, mainly authorities, hated me at school. This really made me unhappy ’cause I have no intention on annoying or hurting anybody. They tried everything to counteract me.

    If I would do it over with the knowledge I have now, I would homeschool myself (which I actually already did) BUT school was an invaluable training;
    – For my fear of failure. Some say school created this but I know it was inherent to my character. I know if I would have left school every time (say every week) I wanted to quit and kill myself, it would have been almost impossible to overcome. I proved everybody – including myself – that I can do whatever I want. I started engineering while I had absolutely no background, brains or basis for it. First year was a disaster and now I can honestly say that I surpassed many peers including a list of extra experiences.
    – I learned to stick through. ENFP suffer from the Too Many Ideas disease and it makes them start a million projects without really advancing in anything
    – I learned how to deal with authorities. Loads of people used to hate me. Even tough my ideas could be groundbreaking, they just didn’t want to see it. I learned how to switch people’s sensitive buttons, while still doing whatever I wanted. If I would have stopped with uni in a low, I would still have troubles dealing with higher powers. Especially this point has been a major problem throughout my life and I’m grateful I saw the light.
    – Because the level was very high, going through this experience proved me that I (and everybody in this world) can do anything they want if they set their mind to it. It’s crazy how I can feel how my brain has developed over the years. I wonder if that would have happened if I was just living the happy homeschool life, doing whatever I wanted to do. Would I have taken the easy road?
    – I got a nice degree along the way. Belgium is of course different from America. One degree is state funded for everybody. So pick out something nice, while your having your own adventures along the way. I can put a nice Ir. title under every project I create now. Good for credibility as I have few experiences in the field and want to start something up myself. But it isn’t necessary!

    Things I still need to learn to become a better ENFP;
    – Focus.
    – Discipline. We all crave for freedom so badly. How odd it may sound, increasing discipline leads to more freedom.
    – And of course, as a 20something figure out what I want to do with my life. Now that this battle against school is over, I’ll have to create my own precious battles.

    My little sister is an ENFP and I see her doing the same stuff I did. Mom doesn’t believe in homeschooling and just sends her to torture class. I want to guide her trough the process to homeschool herself; my next battle ;)

    Good luck to all ENFP! :))

  14. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I found a typo: “great things by brining them”. Somebody probably already mentioned it in the comments but I rarely notice these so I got a bit excited.

    Anyway, loved the article. As an ENFP myself, I can’t say I ever found school difficult but it was definitely uninspiring. It doesn’t surprise me that many kids with this type might struggle in a traditional school setting.

    Lots of times, I would take assignment requirements more as suggestions, and would just do as I pleased. Some teachers really appreciated a project or paper that switched things up, others would punish you. Lots depend on the teacher’s type as well.

    The good thing is lots of teachers are NFs, so they might be sympathetic to the ENFP’s crazy ideas.

  15. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    I’m a classic ENFP, but did really well in school. Top of my class, went to a top 15 university. Graduated with a 3.5.

    But now I hate the thought of school. I hated writing papers for professors.

    Also, my dad was undiagnosed bipolar. He used guilt and abuse to make sure we did well in school. It worked, because I did really well in school, and because I did, I sort of liked it. (this is all related, I promise)

    I think my question is that, if my personality type suggests I won’t be good in school, does that mean external factors (bad home-life, etc.) usurped my predestined personality type?

    I don’t know if I’m putting too much stake in this personality type thing…

  16. Anna Louise
    Anna Louise says:

    I am interested in your thoughts on whether Waldorf would work for an ENFP. I realize you just said school isn’t good for ENFPs, but, would Waldorf be better than other types of schools?

    The thing about school that ENFPs LOVE is the social aspect. In fact they probably love spending every day confined in rooms with dozens of people more than any other type, and they work the crowd during recess and in the lunch room. It doesn’t make for getting much work done…but they have their own priorities.

    My brother and my 8yo son are ENFPs. I recently pulled my 8 yo out of school. He LOVED the social setting of his school, he was SO in his element socially. But by the end that was the only thing that was working for him.

    We are liking homeschooling, and he has various social activities and a homeschool coop, but in a couple of years we might try Waldorf in large part so he can again be part of a warm learning community.

      • Anna Louise
        Anna Louise says:

        And with any form of schooling (other than Sudbury/free school) there is greatly increased risk of failure to launch. I will hope to stay the course with the homeschooling…and hopefully will find strong social connections within the homeschool community. We have just begun the coop. My gut tells me we will have a better outcome with my 8yo if he’s homeschooled for the duration.

        I’ll check out the book. I have read The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine which correlates our adolescent experience with depression and failure to launch. It makes me want to pull my 13 yo out of school…but he’s been happily schooled K-8 and looks forward to high school so we’ll see how it goes next year.

      • Ms. Liza
        Ms. Liza says:

        Thanks for sharing that link to that book. This simply validates what I have seen in the classroom as parents work harder to shield their kids from pain, consequences and responsibility.

        I loved reading this post. I am also an enfp and my teachers struggled to understand me as much as I struggled to understand myself. Fortunately I had many teachers go the extra mile with me, which made a deep impression. I fear that those moments are less likely today in our data driven world of instruction. I was always sewing or selling things on the side at school. In tenth grade I flunked algebra 2 twice, yet I had the highest score on the final. Fortunately the head of the department allowed me to go on to geometry and held weekly meetings with me to help me stay organized. I barely graduated HS with a 1.9 GPA, but I went on to college to receive straight a’s and ended up getting three scholarships, while other good students around me lost theirs, along with their motivation.

        While my mom did homeschool some of my other siblings for brief periods, I am glad I was not homeschooled myself because my mom’s personality resembled that of a traditional school teacher and would have suppressed my creativity. (Even today we get into heated discussions about education) I learned so much from my parents after school, but I needed the challenges found in a larger environment to grow. I had to deal with bullys and the social caste system, but I also joined the debate team, which was the beginning of getting over my fears.

        I have dear friends and family members who are brilliant homeschoolers and I teach my boys a lot of wonderful things at home too, but after less than a year of teaching my young autistic son at home, I realized we were both frustrating each other and needed space apart to grow. The miracles began when my son was placed on an IEP and received the developmentally appropriate help he needed, that I was unable to give at the time.

        Today that son is in sixth grade and off the IEP and his autism now manifests itself as geekiness. It was always the teachers that made a difference as well as educating myself to implement successful interventions at home. While a well-run Montessori classroom was so good for him, I eventually had to pull him out of Montessori because his teachers were unable to meet his needs. At one point he was actually in my class, but I made the difficult decision to pull him out because this small class lacked the good role models that he needed to succeed. Fortunately I chose well and he blossomed at his next school.

        I wanted to comment on Montessori since I am trained both as a public school teacher and have received ami training for ages 3-6 (primary) and ages 6-12 (elementary). I am working on a second masters in special education and even used montessori principles in a self-contained classroom, successfully transitioning two students back into a mainstream classroom. I also started consulting for homeschool special needs classrooms who wish to utilize a montessori approach and I work on the side to create more authentic Montessori-based enrichment activities. I currently teach grades 4-6 and have seen my share of private school, public school, and homeschool failures over the years. While I still remain a huge fan of the Sudbury approach that sometimes becomes known as unschooling, there is no one method that will work for all children and all families. I believe children can be harmed if given a method not suited them. As examples, over the years, I have helped several children regain their love of learning in my classroom after being homeschooled by stressed or mentally unbalanced parents who received very little training as well as attendees of private or charter schools that slipped through the cracks without oversight and made it to third or fourth grade without even knowing all the sounds of the alphabet. While even Sudbury had its share of late readers and were not concerned with teaching reading at a young age, they did have definite requirements to graduate and had a democratic system to maintain order.

        Many homeschoolers choose a Montessori school to transition to, but many fail to realize that any school can use the Montessori name and it may not be anything close to Montessori’s approach (I worked at enough of those schools to know) While some may think that Montessori becomes more conventional in older grades, that depends largely on the teachers and the school. Since I work at a charter school, I must work carefully to align all my lessons with the materials to the state standards and my students do participate in standardized testing once a year. But the instruction remains child-centered even as they pass to abstraction in math and rely less on the manipulatives.

        Having taught at public schools with a heavy reliance on kill and drill and near constant assessment, heavy homework loads and strict scope and sequence curriculums to follow, my enfp personality type felt so suppressed, but as an authentic Montessori teacher I love what I do because it is all for the children. I may make lesson plans for the week, but I so quickly and easily change them as I observe what new projects are unexpectedly popping up in the classroom. There is nothing better than to look around my classroom and see 30 children each working with great concentration on their chosen activity and they have no use for me. This sense of cooperation and independence is what is harder (but not impossible) to cultivate in many educational settings.

        I hope that someday all parents are able to receive appropriate resources to be the best educator for their children as possible. In the end it is those parenting decisions that make the biggest difference. I see this both as a teacher and a mom as my 17 year old shows me he is ready to successfully fly outside the nest.

        Sent from my iPhone

  17. Amy
    Amy says:

    Penelope – As someone who recently discovered I’m an ENFP, I feel light as a feather and so, so, free when I read this. I’m in my late 20’s and have always struggled operating within the constraints of formal school and corporate America. I’ve always been an outside the box thinker who finds patterns in things others don’t. So much of my life feels “against the grain.” If I have kids who also test as ENFP’s I’ll have the courage to let them be who they are!

  18. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi! Your post applies to INFPs as well. We also have many ideas, always look for meaning, and don’t care much about grades and status. We can conform to school because we value peace and harmony, but being in a classroom tires us when we would rather just read, listen or watch by ourselves.

    I have a hard time memorizing rules, reciting in class, and writing papers. I just persist with law school because I learn a lot of things that would be useful and helpful. Sometimes I wonder that I should have just become a paralegal, but then you can be more independent when you’re a lawyer.

  19. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    Fascinating stuff and thank you for sharing, Penelope!

    I’m an ENFP and fairly extreme on each of the four spectrums. School was always easy for me academically but it weighed on me. By the time I was in high school I was blackmailing my very rule-following mother in to calling me in sick (she couldn’t tolerate my being labeled “truant”) because I just couldn’t attend school yet again… not that it was hard or I didn’t have friends, just having to go to the same place every day at the same time was oppressive.

    I found out I had graduate from college because my university (and a very good school too – UCSD) mailed my parents my diploma. I was unsure until that moment because the final class I had to take to graduate was Spanish in summer school which met 5 days a week. Making a class 5 days in a row was not something I forced myself to do back when I was 22 and even though I aced my tests, the participation grade suffered. I left the class on the final day not knowing if I had passed and even though I knew I wasn’t dumb I was too ashamed to actually ask the teacher for my grade. (I now speak Spanish fluently after a few years in Mexico and Guatemala… the whole learn-a-language-in-a-classroom was a waste of time.)

    I didn’t discover MBTI until my late 20’s after being the smartest person almost fired by most of my previous employers. But even finding out about ENFPs, I’ve never seen type written about as boldly as you do.

    I’m learning a ton from your blog and it is really helping me as I face a huge life change.

    Thank you for the conversation.

  20. enfp
    enfp says:

    I don’t necessarily agree that schools squash creative types. There’s generally enough flexibility in the system to make it change to work for you.

    I’m an ENFP who ended up doing well in school. I came in top 4% of my state and I’m now onto a masters degree where, comparative to my peers, I put in very little concentrated effort but still walk out with a distinction average. I really enjoy studying and plan to continue my education so long as I can get a tax break to pay for it.

    I’ve always been given the freedom to learn in ways more effective to me. I’ve generally been able to negotiate a less structured teaching regime with my educators. Even in an incredibly conservative all girls private boarding school. I wouldn’t sit down and do assigned tasks for homework because I found them constraining and often pointless. I’d express what I’d learnt in more creative ways. The teachers were fine with me taking unconventional approaches to course work because it was clear I enjoyed what I was studying, I was more productive and more engaged.

    Education was problematic when I was much younger though. It was assumed that I wasn’t particularly intelligent as I was hyperactive, had an inability to focus and tendency to get distracted. But this was because I found the classes moved incredibly slowly and didn’t provide stimulation.

    I’m lucky enough to have found a place in the workforce where I can be creative, work without too firm a structure, engage in problem solving, developing and executing long-term strategies, mentoring without micromanagement.

    Interesting article but I do think there is ample opportunity to engage in self directed learning if you put your hand up and say it’s what you need over structure.

  21. Shaindel Beers
    Shaindel Beers says:

    I found this post interesting. I’m an ENFP and an English professor. I think the key lies in finding one’s strengths. I know that school has changed a lot since NCLB, which is unfortunate. I did spend a lot of time bored in K-12 (in the 1980s-1990s), but once I got to college, I was ecstatic. I got to study what I wanted; because of what I majored in (B.A. in English, minor in dance), I only had to take the general education math and science courses, and then graduate school was even better, and I went on to earn two graduate degrees (M.A. in British literature/Philosophy, M.F.A. in Creative Writing).

    I think ENFPs can be highly successful at school.They just need to understand their strengths and have teachers and parents who understand them as people.

  22. J.D. Meyer
    J.D. Meyer says:

    I’m an ENFP who became a teacher–mostly Developmental English. I won a couple of awards for teaching and was VP of the faculty senate. Yet I was the kind of guy that administrators traditionally hate for being too uppity, and having a liberal dress code. i even got in trouble at one junior college for being an author! Sometimes I wished I had played dead. Fleeing to Austin would have been better. I could relate to this article and wish your cause fortune.

  23. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Well, I’m an ENFP and I was not 4.0 student, more like a 3.4-3.6 GPA. True to my colors I was always told I had a weird approach to learning concepts, especially in Math. Some classes were struggles because tests aren’t really my thing however, discussions saved me. I always got super into discussions and participation because I can find something interesting in everything! I think the key is to make learning cool, inspiring and optimistic… okay that sounds WAY nerdy but its a necessity.

    The way the article is written is so similar to the articles I read while doing research on ADHD and classroom learning. I think that the ENFP personality type can often be misconstrued as ADHD as the ENFP person can get excited and amped up about the most random of things. This is probably why ADHD is over-diagnosed. Be sure to make the distinction when dealing with issues in school.

  24. Jo
    Jo says:

    I am an ex-homeschooler. I sent the three oldest children to school around highschool, but the youngest, an ENTJ, went to school age 7. She loves it! She goes to a great school, and this year is in an experimental ‘open’ class of 68 children with a whole bunch of teachers. That means she gets to work her magic on 67 other children, plus teachers, which for her is like she died and went to heaven. Soon, she will be running the entire school. This may not be great for the poor school, but it is great for me, because I am an INFP, and at home she is like a steam roller, and I am the road!

  25. Carrie
    Carrie says:

    I am an ENFP with a very strong N. I loved school though. To be around so many people and ideas was invigorating. Especially at the really good school that I went to for two years that made me love music and french. I loved college too. It was amazing to learn so many things. I went on to do my masters. I don’t think it’s true that ENFPs don’t succeed in school and college. I was valedictorian! In fact I read research on valedictorians and the largest percentage of them were ENFPs. But what didn’t jive with me that well was academia- the higher levels of college degrees (lots of pointless discussions where people try to make themselves sound important with complicated words).

  26. Carrie
    Carrie says:

    One more thing I thought about. An ENFP that gets to be around people and an ENFP that isn’t around people as much are two very different people. The former is full of energy and can accomplish things they don’t even necessarily like to do. The second is grumpy and unmotivated. The first is what I was when at school and college. The second is what I am now that I’m a stay at home mom. I WISH I could go to school again and have an infinite variety of people around me and a “happening” environment to give me energy. I just went to my son’s high school open house and I had so much energy afterwards to put my daughter to bed, when usually I’m just dragging myself through it. ENFPs need lots of people- they might be totally different to their usual selves when in a homeschool situation.

  27. Ms. Liza
    Ms. Liza says:

    I agree Carrie! That’s why I’m a Montessori teacher with a large class. Projects keep me going and I teach my students with the same degree of intensity as my three sons. I have such a soft spot in my heart for those who were too energetic, defiant, or controlling to fit in. Those children will be tomorrow’s leaders.

  28. NathanW
    NathanW says:

    I’m an 18 year old ENFP, and I’m still in school. This article must be the most beautiful, relatable and concise articles I’ve ever read about education. My everyday experience with school is hell, having to comply with others’ ideas of what I’m “supposed” to be learning instead of spending my day discovering and creating. I find myself trying every night after school to fulfill this desire that is being denied during the day. I’m looking forward so much to graduation and freedom. Everybody asks me “What college are you going to?”, and I say “College?…NEVER!” I want to experience real life and change the world with my ideas!

  29. Pam O'Hara
    Pam O'Hara says:

    Thanks for this post. You just described my daughter, the smartest and most creative person I know. Do you have any specific advice for helping this person find their way in to the world of meaningful work?

  30. Katy Forsyth
    Katy Forsyth says:

    Wow! I really relate to this article, I have always found school restrictive (I am an ENFP) and this post makes me feel as though the problem is not entirely mine. I have just finished school and only have my final exams to go, I have not applied for university due to my less than enjoyable school experience. Hopefully I will be more stimulated by a world outside of school and education !

  31. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    I took some tests recently and discovered I am actually an ENFP, although believed I was an INFP for quite some time. I think I just drain myself so quickly with my extreme behaviour that it feels like introversion.

    Anyways, I think us ENFPs, while being quite prone to a distaste for the dull and studious nature of academia, are actually positioned to succeed over others in the end, because of the holy grail of academia: tests.

    I am and always have been an absolutely whiz at testing so it has never mattered that I was not in reality a good student. In high school I regularly skipped class, never did my homework, and could not pay attention in class for the life of me (ADD -was not diagnosed till 25). But I would figure out how and what teachers would test (no teachers don’t actually test for what a course covers -99% of kids get caught up on this), how to prepare for certain tests (multiple choice tactics; long answer techniques etc..), and then I would seclude myself for two weeks before exams and leverage my shit grades to As. If all else failed, I would befriend an Asian last minute in my class and have them tutor me or sit next to them and cheat.

    Also, ENFPs are very resourceful and such excellent manipulators of systems. I’ve charmed people into giving me all their notes in seconds. I’ve lied my way out of testing when not prepared. I’ve worked my way into the hearts of professors and gotten them to give me extra assistance.

    In the end though I think my cleverness in academia screwed me over. My high LSAT score got me into several law schools, but it was a bad fit and I ended up dropping out after a year. If I hadn’t been good at testing I would have been forced into a more authentic path.

    Your son is very lucky to have you. ENFPs flourish beautifully when their strengths are recognized and weaknesses mitigated.

  32. Kaleigh
    Kaleigh says:

    I am an ENFP at one of the top universities in the world and I absolutely love school. I adore learning new ideas and applying my creativity to different projects and assignments.

    I think it’s a shame to label ENFPs unlikely to succeed in school. We may dislike bureaucracy, restrictive rules, and poorly designed tests–I certainly do–but at least to me, classes full of fascinating material, interesting teachers, and engaging discussions with classmates represent an irreplaceable joy.

  33. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I agree with Kaleigh. I loved university to much! I wish I could stay there forever! I love learning new things and the huge variety of classes you can take. I love all the interesting, knowledgeable people around and the happening atmosphere. I also hate bureaucracy but as a student you are pretty much a free entity, able to do whatever you want as long as you do your assignments and study. Most school valedictorians are ENFPs. It could be that the student who hates school who is an ENFP has other learning problems not to do with personality type. Or maybe they are in a school that is not teaching in tune with current psychological knowledge and is too restrictive.

  34. Nathan
    Nathan says:

    This seems like a great excuse to hate on a school. Despite the list of evidence that Penolope points to, surely allowing people with experience and knowledge to teach our kids is the better option. I believe that homeschooling is more damaging for the kids, as they believe that they have ‘failed’ the school system and are stupid. Also they cannot be supplied with the support they need. Just my opinion.

  35. Ajani Irish
    Ajani Irish says:

    Amazing Article.
    I believe you are completely correct and I am a living example. Throughout school I was the intelligent kid whose potential was constantly being attacked because of peoples need to control. As a result of this I dealt with a lot of confusion about my abilities and future in this world. Lucky for me I did a plethora of reading and sought out help from mentors and my abilities are now harnessed allowing me to do great things. I am now making it one of my goals to spread this message to schools so that future students don’t have to experience the hardships I faced with controlling teachers, boring coursework, and a horrid curriculum.
    Thank you for writing this and daring to be different!
    Best wishes

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