Why Nerds Are Unpopular

The roots of all kinds of problems in America (and, I daresay, in Canada and plenty of other places that use the same educational system), are to be found in the schools?

I wouldn’t have come to quite that conclusion on my own, but this essay by Paul Graham, titled Why Nerds are Unpopular, posits that thesis. It’s a wonderful piece of writing that certainly threw light on my own middle-school and high-school experience.

By all means, read it for yourself. But especially if you know any young people going through school now, having an obviously hard time of it as a nerd, copy it and print it and give a copy to them. I wish I’d seen something like this, some home truths about just why my school life was so hard for me, while I was still in the middle of it.

As a side note, I found it surprising to think back on the dynamics of high school in Saskatchewan, where being smart was far from envied, and being popular or tough was basically everything… then I compared it to what I heard about high school in Korea, where being smart is essentially an enviable thing—a school system that focuses on a single exam at the end of the program, which determines your academic and professional future, is bound to make being smart less of an evil—but where other forms of difference are, I’m told, quite mercilessly persecuted. Appearance (being either “too pale” or “too dark” of skin, reasons a friend of mine teaching high school here mentioned some of her students were picked on, or even possibly being of mixed blood, or Chinese heritage); family background, poverty, and wardrobe… sadly, while the things chosen to pick on are different, the pack dynamics of teenagers in the West and here don’t seem necessarily too different at all.

Emailing a link to this essay to a friend writing a novel set in a high school, I suggested that it’d be interesting to send a non-anglophone primatologist to a high school to study how teenagers act in their groups, in their hierarchy. I think it’d be sobering, indeed.

But I am left, at the end of the article, wondering, “Okay, so what can we do about this? Is there any solution?” It feels like reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, seeing just how much bullshit a major social institution is founded upon, and then having not only no suggestions, but also no idea, what to do about it.

Maybe that’s an exercise for the reader, though. In any case, I now find myself wanting to read the whole book that this essay is taken from.

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