Nonfiction Nagging- Get Your Geek On

Being a teenager can be extremely hard, no matter what clique you hang out with or what your family background is like. I'm around mostly fifteen and sixteen year olds all day, and they are definitely interesting creatures. Because of this close proximity and the attention bullying has gotten over the past few years, I decided to read The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandria Robbins. The author intermixes the stories of four teenagers and one teacher (the reader doesn't find out she's not a teen until a little way in) in with her sociological research and observations in a four hundred page book that offers some interesting perspectives.

Before I truly start I do want to point out that I didn't love this book; I appreciate the message, but I thought as a text it was a little contrived at times (no one IMs anymore, for crap's sake). The dialogue was frequently unrealistic as far as how teenagers actually talk, and the format wasn't always cohesive. I often felt that her "real" kids were actually characters based on interview compilations. It was also a bit too long; by about page 250 I decided to just read until the end because I was so anxious to be done. In all fairness, though, it was partially because it reminded me of something that would have been required for my credentialing classes.

I think the core message of the book was positive, though. Robbins' five subjects (their titles, which I found a bit stereotypically obvious and offensive, were: the nerd, the loner, the weird girl, the popular bitch, and the gamer) were eventually given a challenge that forced them to face their social fears in the face and make a difference. One girl was supposed to start a LGBT group at the school she taught at, another was supposed to break away from her current clique, and another start interacting with other groups of kids by means of his recycling program. Some did better than others, but they all learned that labels are permanent and a lot of the time our difficulties come from our own perceptions.

I think as an educator being aware of what is happening with out student is important- it effects what they do while we're with them. A lot of teachers tend to have a hands off policy, and I can understand that. I don't want to know what they do at parties or who comes over while their parents are out of town, but I do want to know if they feel like an outcast or are have trouble with other kids. So many students lack a place to safe, and school is the only place where they may have a hope. Teaching extends beyond the class and curriculum, whether we want it to or not.

I'm always so curious as to where and when the bullying, intolerant attitude begins. The five kids in this book were plagued by others, both on a hostile level and in regards to the pressure to conform. I think the easy out is blaming the parents, which I believe is definitely a significant factor. But there are plenty of nice parents that raise murderers, abusers, and just plain assholes. Nurture and society play a part, no doubt. I guess this then leads to the question of when, who, and where must the identification and prevention of these sorts of potentially dangerous personalities should start. Ideally it would be a team effort by families and educators, and one that didn't focus on punishment, but instead positive reinforcement and behavior modification. There's no right answer, but doing nothing is definitely not the way to go.

One of the characters in this book, "the weird girl," was actually a lesbian teacher that faced adversity by her colleagues. As adults we're no immune to forming groups and targeting outcasts. Even in our own department meetings we branch off into groups based on personalities. While I don't feel like there's any true adult bullying going on at our site, I do see that there are definitely the "cool kids" and then everyone else. As in high school I guess I find myself hovering in between, not necessarily in the mix of the fun but not feeling like a pariah by any means! I know there are much more hostile work environments, though, and I am thankful I personally have never had to experience it. Come one, guys. Set a good example. Be nice to the IT guy who has a Battleship Galactica screensaver and and talks about HTML like it's no big deal. Go out of your way to have lunch with a new colleague. Bring cookies for the divorced lady you know has nine cats.

As a society we also need to do more to embrace the different. In my AP classes there are a lot of different groups represented; athletes, serious students, the indies, the religious, the outgoing , the shy, those in band and drama, and the ones that just seem to exist. I have to say, they all seem to work pretty well together and I've never seen any sort of hostility. While I'm sure it exists, it's nice to see the kid with all A's playing around on the guitar of the kid who wears ripped Metallica shirts every day. There's also a very high level of tolerance in regards to sexuality that I don't see with my normal English 2 classes. Each week my kids have to write a response to an editorial and I usually get ten or so dealing with gay rights. Most of the students have no problems with same-sex relationships, and a few have said that while they don't agree they don't care if other people are gay because it doesn't impact them. If only all teens (and adults) could be so tolerant! I think the whole geek/nerd subculture is definitely become more trendy, but the fact that there are labels to begin with is unfortunate. Unfortunate, but realistic. They're not going away, so we must teach kids to be accepting of everyone, including themselves.

As far as the book, unless you're a teacher, a parent, or someone with a particular interest in this area of sociology, I'd probably say pass. Yup, pass on the book that's trying to help kids feel comfortable with themselves.

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