Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why Nerds Drop Out of School

Courtesy of David Brooks:
Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on.
Don't take it from me, take it from Brooks:
In every high school there are students who are culturally and intellectually superior but socially aggrieved. These high school culturati have wit and sophisticated musical tastes but find that all prestige goes to jocks, cheerleaders and preps who possess the emotional depth of a cocker spaniel. The nerds continue to believe that the self-reflective life is the only life worth living (despite all evidence to the contrary) while the cool, good-looking, vapid people look down upon them with easy disdain on those rare occasions they are compelled to acknowledge their existence.
Oh, I recognize that Brooks is arguing something else, the sort of thing Orwell argued in The Road to Wigan Pier,
The time was when I used to lament over quite imaginary pictures of lads of fourteen dragged protesting from their lessons and set to work at dismal jobs. It seemed to me dreadful that the doom of a 'job' should descend upon anyone at fourteen. Of course I know now that there is not one working-class boy in a thousand who does not pine for the day when he will leave school. He wants to be doing real work, not wasting his time on ridiculous rubbish like history and geography. To the working class, the notion of staying at school till you are nearly grown-up seems merely contemptible and unmanly. The idea of a great big boy of eighteen, who ought to be bringing a pound a week home to his parents, going to school in a ridiculous uniform and even being caned for not doing his lessons! Just fancy a working-class boy of eighteen allowing himself to be caned!
If anything, Orwell's essay highlights how little schools have changed, and how a willingness to participate in the academic side of high school has a lot less to do with young men "want[ing] to put themselves in positions they find humiliating" and a lot more to do with cultural expectation. It is actually true that a good number of kids who are academically inclined have memories of how much they hated high school, and a good number of kids who barely cracked a book have glorious memories of their social lives and athletic achievements. You can sense some of that resentment in Brooks' caricature of the popular kids and how they perceived kids like... him. But you have to grow up - sometimes "you gotta do what you gotta do."

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