Thursday, June 2, 2011

Decoding High School: Why Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

I saw this segment yesterday on CNN with Alexandra Robbins, author of the new book Why Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth. I used to say regularly to children who complained about not fitting in at school, "Geeks rule the world," and sometimes I'd end up in a debate about the difference between geeks and nerds. If you check Amazon, you'll discover a lot of books have the word "geeks" in the title, but the last time I bought one it was Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho by Jon Katz.

The Katz book is about two specific "geeks," misfits who were bullied, and how they succeeded and found their place through network technology, while the Robbins book is about different types of high school students and where they fit or don't fit in on the teen social hierarchy chart. Here is the publisher's description as posted to Amazon:
*Now a New York Times bestseller* In a smart, entertaining, reassuring book that reads like fiction, Alexandra Robbins manages to cross Gossip Girl with Freaks and Geeks and explain the fascinating psychology and science behind popularity and outcasthood. She reveals that the things that set students apart in high school are the things that help them stand out later in life. Robbins follows seven real people grappling with the uncertainties of high school social life, including:
  • The Loner, who has withdrawn from classmates since they persuaded her to unwittingly join her own hate club;
  • The Popular Bitch, a cheerleading captain both seduced by and trapped within her clique's perceived prestige;
  • The Nerd, whose differences cause students to laugh at him and his mother to needle him for not being "normal";
  • The New Girl, determined to stay positive as classmates harass her for her mannerisms and target her because of her race;
  • The Gamer, an underachiever in danger of not graduating, despite his intellect and his yearning to connect with other students;
  • The Weird Girl, who battles discrimination and gossipy politics in school but leads a joyous life outside of it;
  • The Band Geek, who is alternately branded too serious and too emo, yet annually runs for class president.

In the middle of the year, Robbins surprises her subjects with a secret challenge--experiments that force them to change how classmates see them. Robbins intertwines these narratives--often triumphant, occasionally heartbreaking, and always captivating--with essays exploring subjects like the secrets of popularity, being excluded doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you, why outsiders succeed, how schools make the social scene worse--and how to fix it. The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is not just essential reading for students, teachers, parents, and anyone who deals with teenagers, but for all of us, because at some point in our lives we've all been on the outside looking in.
If I give credence to Robbins's classifications, I don't know where I would have fit in under them when I was a teenager. When you throw being overweight in to the equation, outcomes go askew.

Also, I went to a predominantly white, all-girls boarding school that was trying to integrate its student body for the first two years of high school and a predominantly black high school for the second two years. Cultural differences played a role in my perception of high school, but I would not go back to high school for a million dollars, even if youth came with the deal, unless I could take everything I know about life now with me. I think without reading her book, I would agree with the first classification, "The Loner," a person any one of us can become if we internalize being rejected.

I may buy Robbins's book just to see if I agree with any of it based on what I've observed of teens today. It's a bestseller so apparently a lot of people are still trying to figure out what the hell happened in high school.

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