Outsiders rule?

The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth, proclaims Alexandra Robbins, who subtitles her new book: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School.

Robbins follows six high school students and a young teacher (a Vermont lesbian teaching in the South) through a year of school, chronicling gamers, band geeks, emos, punks, loners, jocks and the Popular Bitch, who likes a punk boy. Even the teachers are consumed by gossip, petty rivalries, bitchery and bias toward the “popular,” Robbins asserts.

A Chicago Sun-Times reviewer buys the premise that outsiders are creative, independent thinkers, not just kids who are slower to develop social skills.

At the heart of Geeks is quirk theory, which “hypothesizes that the very characteristics that exclude the cafeteria fringe in school are the same traits that will make them successful as adults and outside the school setting”: creativity/originality, freethinking/vision, resilience, authenticity/self-awareness, integrity/candor, curiosity/love of learning/passion, and courage.

Kids on the “cafeteria fringe” — the ones who can’t figure who to sit with at lunch — usually haven’t chosen to be friendless. (Robbins’ examples do have friends, though not necessarily the ones they want.)  In my experience, outsiders aren’t necessarily super smart, creative or bold non-conformists.  They may be just geeky kids who need a little more time to get it together.  Nor is it axiomatic that the socially adept will be as vapid and mean as the popular girls Robbins describes so vividly.

As an amateur anthropologist, my daughter spent middle school studying popularity. She concluded the essential ingredient is confidence.  In high school, she wasn’t “popular.,  but had plenty of friends in the good-student set. She had the confidence to act as a social sponsor for new kids.  Her specialty was getting a new kid accepted at a compatible lunch table, so they wouldn’t be “cafeteria fringe.” She did it because she is both socially adept and nice. And a bit of a busybody, perhaps.

Cliques aren’t new. What’s changed is the ability of teens to use social media to harass, bully and exclude outsiders — or insiders who stray from their clique’s rules of behavior.  I’d like to learn more about how this works and what might limit the cruelty.

About Joanne