My daughter's friend, Daniel, shared an essay he found on nerds and bullies. It is a powerful essay written by a nerd on why nerds are nerds and why, in his opinion, they're rife targets for bullies.
I am a nerd (although I took an online test and it seems I am a 'moderate' nerd), my husband is a nerd (he didn't take the test) and our three kids are nerds. We've had to deal with nerd issues throughout school. This article brought a lot of things home so I wanted to do two things here. First, please visit my recent blog post which addresses the essay along with a link to the entire essay and the online nerd quiz( Nature of Nerds and Neutralizing Bullies)
Second, I really wanted to know how you deal with bullies and/or raising nerds!
Here's to sharing gifts and embracing differences!!!!!
I also found Graham's essay very interesting, but I'm not sure how much I agree with him. I think in many ways his is a very male point of view (I wonder how many girls sat at his lunch table?). He writes
At the time I never tried to separate my wants and weigh them against one another. If I had, I would have seen that being smart was more important. If someone had offered me the chance to be the most popular kid in school, but only at the price of being of average intelligence (humor me here), I wouldn't have taken it.
But how many studies are there that show that smart girls often make that bargain and dumb themselves down in order to fit in? I think Graham's discussion is also limited by a very narrow definition of intelligence; it takes no account of emotional savvy
And I think nerds do indeed realize the kind of work it takes to be popular, but a nerd in popular kids' clothing is just that, and everyone knows it. Social status isn't merely upbringing; my mother was a cheer-leader and dated all the "right" guys before eventually marrying my intellectual father. Graham says that
Even if nerds cared as much as other kids about popularity, being popular would be more work for them. The popular kids learned to be popular, and to want to be popular, the same way the nerds learned to be smart, and to want to be smart: from their parents. While the nerds were being trained to get the right answers, the popular kids were being trained to please.
Despite my mother's best efforts, I was/ am shy, nerdy, and unpopular (though not friendless). I married another lit wonk; our first child is beautiful (of course, I'm a little biased), popular (which she sure didn't learn at home), was a straight-A student throughout junior high and high school, went to college on a merit scholarship, and came out in May with two B.A.s (which are doing her no good in this economy). Our second child is equally beautiful — an attribute for which he was tormented as a child by other children — and equally bright, but has only recently come developed social skills. The fact that he now is unmistakably male may have helped. But all his friends are two years ahead of him in school because these are the kids whose emotional level is closest to his. But both my kids are nerds: not only are they smart, they play Magic, read SF&F (that they got from me), and my daughter loves World of Warcraft, which she plays with her boyfriend.
I also take exception to Graham's assertion that
I'm suspicious of this theory that thirteen-year-old kids are intrinsically messed up. If it's physiological, it should be universal. Are Mongol nomads all nihilists at thirteen? I've read a lot of history, and I have not seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact before the twentieth century. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance seem to have been cheerful and eager. They got in fights and played tricks on one another of course (Michelangelo had his nose broken by a bully), but they weren't crazy.
As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.
Apprentices in the Renaissance were notorious for rioting and slacking off (at least according to the elders who wrote about them). Curbing the rebellion of apprentices was always one of the reasons cited for why the theatres should be closed. And they did indeed tend o sneak off to see plays, just as our teens head for the movies or concerts when they still have homework or chores. Medieval teens had far fewer opportunities to take in public entertainment, but could also be rebellious. Of course, in both the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, rebellion was curbed much more brutally, with severe beatings by parents or masters, or even criminal charges. I'm guessing Graham is not advocating a return to such measures.
Bullying was also more prevalent, though not thought of in those terms. Women, the mentally and/ or physically handicapped, anyone of a lower class, the ill (think lepers), and other "Others" were all fair game for torment.
With all that said, I deeply sympathize with the anguish that led Graham to write his article. I remember with equal pain every instance of physical and emotional bullying I endured (and to be honest, cringe at the memory of the times I said mean things to others), and even more vividly the persecutions my children, particularly my son, suffered. To be fair, these were not always at the hands of his peers; we twice moved him from schools in which the teachers or administration were cruel to him because of his learning disabilities (the curse of the twice-exceptional child: intelligence that "compensates" for learning difficulties so that those problems seem to be caused by laziness). I always had mixed feelings about this approach; removing ourselves from these school communities meant we could do nothing to ameliorate the problem. But I didn't want to sacrifice our son's well-being for our principles. (Lousy choices.) We are fortunate to live in a district that allows some choice in the public schools.
I found that volunteering in my children's schools helped; sometimes kids who were prone to bullying because of what they didn't understand (my son's feminine appearance; our religion, Judaism) would approach me and ask about what they didn't feel they could discuss with Avery. Often that helped, as I suspect did the awareness that I was around and watching.
My son is now going to the high school in which my husband teaches. Going to school with his father, he finally feels safe. But this is a solution that is available to few of the bullied.
As far as creating more meaningful experiences for kids in school goes, that is much easier to prescribe that bring about. Part of the problem may be that we need to be clearer about the very real value of learning. And "meaningful" often gets blurred with "entertaining." If the kids are paying attention, then we must doing something right, no?
But teachers are already overloaded trying to meet the requirements of NCLB, and of parents who expect teachers to raise their children. My brother sent me this cartoon; there is much truth in it:
Too few parents have the time to patrol hallways or playgrounds; as you point out, too few even make time for family dinner. So many kids are themselves over-scheduled and have lives that revolve around competition: they have to win the football championship, the marching band trophy, the science fair award, the skating ribbon, the college applications. No wonder they think about their social lives as another kind of competition with winners and losers.
It's all terribly complicated. How do we meet they needs of all these individuals, especially with huge classes and school hallways so crowded that it's almost impossible for adult supervisors to see the quick cruelties that are repeatedly inflicted on the nerds and other outcasts. Do we just keep telling our children, "Hang on, it WILL get better" and "Someday, those bullies will work for you"? I've learnt that if we tell our children to stand up for themselves, they are just as likely to get in trouble as are the bullies. How do we teach kids to stand up for each other, when doing so carries such a heavy price with both their peers and the adult who are supposed to watch out for them?
I agree with you that nerd girls will often dumb down, but at least in my kids' case that did not happen (thankfully). In their schools there were different groups and they were happy with their own.
You bring up many interesting points - I liked the one about defining what learning is. I think that is beginning to change - on a micro level. In the schools I consult in, teachers really are trying to move away from traditional texts and trying to find projects to make learning more meaningful. I hope that is the case in your schools as well.
That was a fun quiz. It nailed me. I scored: Not nerdy, but definitely not hip.
I don't know if this quite fits your topic, but I recently wrote a story about mean girls from my past, and I invited others to link up: Ditched: A scene from a memoir I haven't written yet