Friday, March 13, 2015

Who Would I Be?

Sometimes I have trouble deciding which answer to give on personality tests because I behave differently in different situations. A lot of us do. I remember taking a quiz where one of the traits was, "I don't like to sit still for a long time," and I instinctively said that this was true for me. Then I took the same test during one of my college summers where I was working really hard on my novel, which obviously involved a lot of sitting still. And I was really torn about what to say. I realized that I did not have one true answer to this question - it really just depended on what I was doing while I was sitting down.

It's natural to behave differently in different situations, but sometimes I wasn't sure how much weight I should assign to each situation. Like, if I behave one way at school and the opposite way at home, how much weight should I really be giving to how I behave in the place that I was forced to be against my will? Shouldn't the real me be the way I behave when I actually have the freedom to do what I want?

I wanted to test this theory, so I decided to take a personality test twice under two different conditions: my current situation, and the hypothetical situation in which I was unschooled.

I'm using the Big Five Personality Test. I know this test is not good because it's very judgmental about what you should be, but it felt like the best choice to use for this example. But please be aware that I do not accept the judgments inherent in this quiz and I do not have any desire whatsoever to actually be any of these things. The version of the test that I took gives scores in percentiles. So if I am in the 30th percentile on a particular trait, that means that I scored higher on that trait than 30 percent of the other people who took the quiz.

First, I took the quiz based on how I feel I am right now. I gave my instinctive answers and these are my results:

Openness: 30th percentile
Conscientiousness: 2nd percentile
Extroversion: 27nd percentile
Agreeableness: 38th percentile
Neuroticism: 98th percentile

Then I took the same quiz a second time in the hypothetical mindset of an unschooler, where I get to choose what I want to do in my life, where my days are filled with hours of unstructured time to run wild and free, and where I never set foot in an institution. And just so you know, I did put some serious thought into this. I'm not exaggerating or just imaging that I would be a completely different if I were unschooled. (You will see that two of the traits remain about the same). I know what I was like in my life outside of school, I've reflected on the differences between my real self and my school self for pretty much my entire life, so my sense of what I would be if I were unschooled is pretty accurate. These are my new scores in the hypothetical situation in which I was unschooled:

Openness: 95th percentile
Conscientiousness: 3rd percentile
Extroversion: 86th percentile
Agreeableness: 10th percentile
Neuroticism: 94th percentile



Wow. That's a pretty big jump on a few of the traits! How exactly did that happen? Well, allow me to explain the differences:

Agreeableness: I was born assertive. Or maybe I learned to be assertive at home. But in any case, "agreeable" was never a quality I would have used to describe myself.  I learned to be agreeable in school. I learned to go along with things I didn't want to do and act like it was okay, to not speak my mind because I was scared. Going along with a structured regiment that you don't want is automatically an agreeable thing to do. I was naturally assertive in my life outside of school as a kid, and I don't think I would have lost that assertiveness if I hadn't been sent to school.

Extroversion: First of all, I don't think it's accurate that I would be this extroverted. I am definitely introverted and would still want to spend a lot of time alone if I were unschooled. This version of the test did not ask about wanting to spend time alone or be with large groups of people, or needing lots of time to recover after socializing. I like a lot of alone time and time with just a small group of friends, and I know that wouldn't change based on whether or not I went to school. But let's examine what this part of the quiz did ask. This section included questions about being talkative, quiet, reserved, energetic, and enthusiastic. While I don't agree that being energetic or enthusiastic should have anything to do with being extroverted, this section shows that I scored higher in those areas when I didn't go to school. Basically, if I eliminate all of the non-consentual situations in my life where I was expected to talk but didn't want to, I would be very talkative and I don't think I would ever describe myself as quiet or reserved. Most of the times that I was reserved or holding back were times when I was forced to be in the situation. At home, I was extremely talkative and energetic and enthusiastic, and basically bouncing off the walls with excitement a lot of the time. In this world where I'm unschooled, I would be that way almost all the time. In this world, there would be no forced social interaction. An interesting thing is that being introverted has to do with being focused more on your own internal world and being extroverted means being more focused on the external world. While I definitely love my internal world above anything else, I would absolutely have more of an interest in the external world if I was doing all stuff that I wanted to do. But if you're stuck in a classroom and can't physically go home and play, what other escape is there than your own mind?

Openness: This section asks if you like to think deeply about things, if you are interested in art, if you like cool new ideas, and if you are curious about lots of things. When I look at questions like this in real life now, I see work. I just see a lot of work, having to come up with a new way of doing something that I already know how to do. I see those intellectual conversations that I was forced into at college. I see having to give intelligent responses in class and be judged on how smart I am or how deeply I think about things. I see, on a lot of these questions, the opposite of fun. But if I think back to when I was young and wild and free, about what I did with my hours of free, unstructured time, I really did love to think about things and I always had lots of new ideas and I was actually curious about things. Now, I would never express curiosity in most things nowadays because I've learned that academic interests lead to homework and studying and career preparation and spending way more time on them than I really want to. But back when I was just out in the backyard testing how different insects reacted to different things I did to them...yeah, okay, I guess I was curious. Heck, I even scored higher on my proficiency in art in this section because unschoolers focus on what they want to learn, so I judged my proficiency based on years and years of focus on what I cared about without schoolwork to interrupt.

So yeah, this is how I think I would be if I had never been a student. And I know myself very well, so I think this is pretty accurate.

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