preface statement – I hate that I can’t underline or italicize the title up there
I found this book on one of the tables in the Teachers’ Lounge at Trinity back in late April or early May. I wasn’t sure I’d get to it, but it’s title grabbed my attention. I started reading it a few days after I took it home and got drawn in pretty quickly.
The author, Alexandra Robbins, follows six individuals for a school year. Each one is given a categorical label along with their name:
- Blue – The Gamer
- Whitney – The Popular Bitch
- Regan – The Weird Girl
- Noah – The Band Geek
- Eli – The Nerd
- Joy – The New Girl
In addition to introducing each of these people, Robbins also gives background information on what she calls the cafeteria fringe – “People who are not part of or who are excluded from a school’s or society’s in crowd.” She goes on to explain how very often those who a part of the cafeteria fringe go on to much more successful lives than the popular, or in crowd, people. She acknowledges that getting through those times of lack of popularity is not easy, and is a “gut-wrenching social landscape”. Robbins backs up her claim of the cafeteria fringe’s post-high school successes with something she calls Quirk Theory – “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.”
The book is divided up into six parts, late summer-early fall all the way to late spring-early summer. In between each section Robbins introduces new ideas, explores different perspectives and shares stories of current well-known people that were not part of the popular crowds when they were in high school.
As I got further into the book I was amazed time and time again with how horrible high school students can be. I saw myself as part of the fringe when I was in high school, but I was really a floater – I could move pretty easily between groups at school. I did not fit into any easily definable category. I wasn’t a jock, but I swam for my school and played softball and basketball for a church league. I definitely wasn’t a nerd, my grades were far too low to be considered that. I didn’t drink or do drugs, so I wasn’t a stoner. I liked punk rock, but also many other types of music, so no to that too. I had the good fortune to be able to make the choice to walk away from the popular crowd at the end of 8th-grade. I say this as opposed to those that were never given the opportunity to be part of that crowd, more than an arrogant boast.
Robbins’ stories of her subjects are fascinating, sad, alarming as well as funny and touching. One of the subjects has an interesting twist that I won’t spoil. I highlighted over 30 parts of the book that struck me. There really are too many to go into, so I’m just going to try to hit some of the ones that really stuck out to me – positively and negatively.
The whole idea of popularity is split into the standard way of looking at it – the opinion of a person from another to perceived popularity – “how students rank a classmate’s reputation rather than their personal opinion”.
The part I am going to include now really blows me over. Even reading it again for this part just leaves me speechless. This comes from the mini-chapter, Understanding the Popular Bitch
When I asked a popular boy from Arkansas how people at his high school treated students who were different from others, he said, “We crushed their dreams. We had a kid who wanted to be cool, but he wore eyeliner, so we invited him to a party, got him drunk and pushed him into a fire and then some guys peed on him when he passed out. He moved the next week. [Supposedly due to technicalities, charges against the aggressors were dropped.] We cut off a Pentecostal girl’s hair and hid her skirt in gym class, just because we were all Baptists and thought Pentecostals were weird. We felt it our right to do whatever we pleased. Part of being cool was uniformity and anything that isn’t part of our hive mind needs to be mocked.”
I’m just going to let that sink in for a minute.
There’s nothing at all that get me to understand that mind set. Nothing. And the thing is, those kids were probably seen around their town as good, upstanding Christian boys and girls. It’s madness!
There is a section called, The Courage of Nonconformists that I really liked. I’ve always considered myself a nonconformist, and in high school I embraced that. Reading this section made me feel good about that, especially with all the science Robbins includes that shows how our brains are mostly hard-wired to conform. Looking at my daughters now, I can see some of the same non-conformity that I had. GQ had and has it in equal, if not greater quantities than I do.
Robbins talks a good bit about how school systems are designed to get kids to think inside the box when almost every article written about what America needs to do to get education back on track is help to develop students that can problem solve, and almost all of those articles mention students that think outside the box are the ones that are usually best at doing that. I have been fortunate enough to work in three schools where the usual is not the case.
The last part of the book that I’ll talk about is the end where Robbins gives three sections devoted to what students, parents and teachers can do to help this situation. For the students, it again is a little heart-breaking. To be told to hang in there, it will get better seems so shallow, even though it is, for the most part, true. I don’t know how many students will read this book, but I think if they do they can find some hope and some connections with the subjects. I guess the part about the parents seems to be what GQ and I naturally try to do for The Girls. I think the part about what schools can do may be just as hard as what students can do. So much in education is set in stone. So many rules and laws and standards come from people that are not in school buildings daily, with the students. Everything Robbins says is necessary, but not easy to attain at all. However, if an administrator or teacher reads this book and recognizes some changes they can make to help students on the fringe feel more valued then that is a step in the right direction.
I think that The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth should be required reading for anyone going into education. I also think that anyone considering being a parent, or has recently become a parent should read it also. It’s eye-opening on many different levels. I think that anyone who relates to children at all can find something that they can use to make a connection where there might not be one currently, and again, that is a step in the right direction.
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is available for Kindle (currently $2.99!!), hardback and paperback.