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The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

May 16, 2011

Scot McKnight:

Every high school teacher, every youth pastor, and every parent of a high schooler should buy, read, and talk about this book with students and with friends: Alexandra Robbins’ The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. This book is a sketch of what it is like to live amongst high schoolers. Even when you disagree you will find yourself thinking about a culture and wondering how in the world we got ourselves into this condition.

I don’t want to suggest we are falling off a cliff, but the social interaction and cliques of high school students are potent, damaging and culture-forming. But that high school culture is a mirage, reality can be found elsewhere — and years later.

What do you high school teachers see in “cliques”? What are public schools doing about labels and groups? What do you think of her groups (after the jump)?

I don’t teach high school but did coach a bit in a high school for a decade and, even if times have changed, the whole “labeling” thing is everywhere. “Today’s students are so label-conscious that there is even a label for students who consider themselves independent of labels” (indie; p. 40). But labeling is shifting in a notable way: “labeling is shifting from targeting what a student does — studies hard, dresses darkly [sic, dark], plays a band instrument — to what a student feels” (42).

But Robbins’ book is a very important book for another reason: she subscribes to something called “quirk theory.” Here it is:

Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.

Thus, her point? Popularity in high school does not predict success. It measures conformity.

So what are the labels? the groups? She follows these o-so-pungent categories of high school stererotypes, labels and identity-forming categories:

The Gamer
The Popular Bitch
The Weird Girl
The Band Geek
The Nerd
The New Girl

Plus Emos, Indies, Scenes, and Bros.

Go to the cafeteria, where you will find the populars and the preps and the “cafeteria fringe.”

Reading this book is both intoxicating and sickening — and it describes a condition called high school in which great love is needed, intense mercy required, voluminous patience desired, and gobs and gobs of good youth pastors at work.

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From → Culture, Students

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