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.
College students show up for class, then spend 75 minutes checking Facebook photos, sending Tweets to friends and ignoring the professor. She thinks it’s rude. They disagree.
In the college application, you’re a teen-age saint who tutors the underprivileged and picks up trash in the park. Online, you’re a party guy or gal flashing gang signs and strewing beer cans.
College admissions officers are looking at applicants’ Facebook profiles, according to Kaplan’s 2010 College Admissions Survey. (Here’s an infographic.) They also check Twitter and YouTube. Sixty-two percent said social-media profiles usually help applicants get accepted; 38 percent said online profiles hurt students’ chances.
Depression-prone teens can feel even worse when they see that classmates have lots of “friends,” activities and “photos of happy-looking people having great times,” pediatricians warn.
“It’s like a big popularity contest — who can get the most friend requests or get the most pictures tagged,” said Abby Abolt, 16, a Chicago high school sophomore and frequent Facebook user.
In hopes that social media can create a virtual college community, the Gates Foundation is investing in Inigral‘s Schools App. Students who build a network of college friends and classmates are less likely to drop out, in theory.
Teaching the transcendentalists and inspired by an essay called “The End of Solitude,” Lightly Seasoned asked AP juniors to give up social media and TV for one day last weekend.
The journals were fascinating: some kids did it fairly easily and were happily surprised by how productive they were. One kid ended up playing Scrabble with his family instead of going to a concert (because he missed the call): he acted all miffed at me, but he enjoyed the day. Some made no real attempt because they didn’t see any point in defining themselves separately from their social circle … no, they actually said that! This group mostly consisted of the kiddos I know are heavy into the party circuit. I admire how outgoing they are — they’ll know how to network, etc. when they hit the business world, but I wonder how much they know about themselves.
A final group “didn’t want to spend time with their thoughts — they were all about avoiding some painful situations.”
I am twittering — or possibly tweeting — as Joanne Lee Jacobs (my Australian alter ego has taken “Joanne Jacobs.”) Most of the tweets will refer back to the blog, rather than report on what I’m doing every moment of the day. I’m trying to reach more potential readers (and Our School buyers) by using social media, helped by my brother David (email@example.com), a new media consultant. Sign up to follow me. It’s embarassing to have only one follower — my brother.
You’ll also notice a “share this” button at the bottom of each post, which will let readers refer posts to Reddit, Delicious, Facebook, etc.
I’m an old dog trying to learn new tricks. It’s only been a few years since I learned to use a cell phone.