The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School by Alexandra Robbins
As the title makes clear, this book offers a hopeful message to anyone who struggles socially in middle and high school. Quirk theory says that the things that make people stand out as weirdos in school are exactly the things that make people successful as adults. And that’s not just because of the tech industry. It’s because following a passion, knowing yourself, and having the courage to be different are rewarded in adult life even more than they’re punished in school. I thought the most valuable part of the book was the explanations for how and why middle-and high-schoolers form groups and cohere the way they do. Developmentally, they’re wired for conformity and enforcing narrow social rules. The parts of the book that felt more like sociological research were broadly relevant and important. It helped me to understand and empathize with my younger self and the people I went to school with. The recommendations for students, parent, and teachers at the end of the book seemed right on.
There are in depth profiles of several students from different types of cliques from different parts of the country, following them through a year of their high school career. The scenes from these teenagers’ lives felt like excerpts from YA novels sometimes. Each of the teens was given a challenge to grow and expand their social circle. I thought some of this info got repetitive and might have been cut. It was valuable to get to know a few particular students and see how the popularity game affected them all, but fewer pages would have been needed to accomplish this goal.
My one biggest complaint about the book is that part of the book felt like a bait-and-switch when it was revealed that one of the people profiled was actually a teacher, not a student. The point is that adults experience bullying and social exclusion as well, and that when this happens among adults in a school, there is a trickle-down effect on the students. That’s a point worth making, certainly, but I don’t feel the surprise technique was necessary, and it felt dishonest. Some of the stories of teacher favoritism and bullying felt a bit exaggerated to me, but I guess I can’t say that never happens.