I enjoyed Alexandra Robbins’ latest book, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. Since I was and am a nerd (though I do not remember the word being in vogue in high school, a thousand years ago), I appreciated her perspective on high school. I find myself telling some of my students “it is only 4 years” often. I especially liked the profiles of Blue, Danielle, Joy and Noah. As a teacher, I appreciated the inside view of how the social scene plays out in the halls and cafeteria. I have observed most of these scenarios were happening daily at school, but my age and job preclude my direct involvement most of the time. I am often uncomfortable with my younger colleagues’ more enthusiastic immersion in the social lives of the students: I do not let anyone disrespect anyone else in my class or in my earshot, but I would not be able to teach if I spent my time trying to figure out what is occurring as they put themselves into workgroups or encounter each other in the halls. If you are doing your job as a teacher, some of what you do is refocus their attention away from the insane level of drama and self-absorption that hormones dictate. And that is the way it should stay: I trust my relationship with my students, and hope that it will provide them with the support that it is appropriate for me to provide.
But Robbins’ research and judgments seem sloppy at times: she quotes certain social scientists, like Daniel Goleman, Dan Merten or Solomon Asch, but only to support her points. I wish I were sure that she had done all her research homework. She coins the term “quirk theory” to describe her observation that what makes someone an outcast in high school often makes them successful later. It is not really a theory, and a little glib for me—and not supported by this year long “study.” I also question the addition of a teacher into the mix. How am I supposed to judge Robbins’ observations about a teacher, when the subject is students? I also found it disturbing that I could not tell Regan was a teacher until it is revealed halfway through the book. Admittedly, I work in a parochial high school, so the social milieu is somewhat different than some of the schools in the book, but I have never experienced the pervasive petty “high school” behavior of the teachers she chronicles. Regan is too naïve to be real, especially if she has spent 24 years as a gay individual in America. Asking Regan to put herself into the limelight as a gay teacher just proved to be another distraction from the task at hand: TEACHING. My personal life is not the subject I teach. The challenges designed by Robbins for each subject could have been dangerous: she seemed to think them up off the top of her head. Is that responsible? I’m not sure.
I found myself wondering if the author sees herself as a kind of Malcolm Gladwell for the social community of high school. Gladwell’s books are quirky and pointed in their analyses, but you know what you are in for when you open any of his books. I am not sure whether this is supposed to be journalism, creative nonfiction or social experiment. I found myself skimming the sections in between the anecdotes from each student, and then savoring the progress or setbacks of each teen through out the year. So I enjoyed reading this book, but wished it contained more substance.
2.5 out of 5 stars