The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is an important book for parents, educators, and any students who feel marginalized in their school or social life. Alexandra Robbins once again has her finger on the pulse of a critical issue faced by countless young people: persecution or ostracism because of being different from those who are considered popular. Robbins takes readers inside the lives and perspectives of "geeks, loners, punks, floaters, dorks, freaks, nerds, gamers, weirdos, emos, indies, scenes."
Robbins presents profiles of several individuals from what she calls the cafeteria fringe, those who cannot find their way into the popular crowd or, in some cases, find anyone at all to relate to at their schools. Woven through the profiles are relevant research findings and insights from professionals who provide psychological and sociological background that moves Robbins's observations about the individuals into more generalized territory.
Robbins finds that the exact characteristics that cause students to be kept out of the popular cliques are the same characteristics that frequently create successful adults: courage, creativity, originality, freethinking, vision, resilience, authenticity, self-awareness, integrity, candor, curiousity, love of learning, and passion. Robbins calls this quirk theory, and provides numerous examples of well-known individuals who were ostracized in adolescence but triumphed as adults.
What I admire most about this book is how Alexandra Robbins takes readers from an understanding of the problems to how schools, parents, and students can take steps to minimize this phenomenon in their own environments. Robbins helps each of the young people who are dealing with some degree of ostracism to arrive at a "challenge," a specific plan for finding a more satisfying, less threatening social life without compromising the individual traits that each of them takes pride in. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that not all of the challenges are met and fulfilled, but all of the individuals do make important realizations about themselves. Near the end of the book, Robbins offers 31 specific, eye-opening ways that schools, parents, teachers, and students can move to prevent or improve circumstances that lead to bullying, ostracism, and intolerance. For example, Robbins recommends that schools "[m]ake credit requirements equitable: If participation on a school sports team counts as a gym credit, then participation on an academic team or in a drama production also should fulfill a requirement."
I was particularly interested in how educators are portrayed in this book. Although some teachers make important contributions to the well-being of the students, most educators, especially administrators, are shown as oblivious, unsympathetic, and in some cases, complicit conspirators in the difficulties based by ostracized students. One thread of the book deals with teacher cliques, how they affect individual teachers who are not part of the "power group," and the ways that students become embroiled in negative faculty interpersonal situations.
As with her previous book The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids, Alexandra Robbins writes with authority and credibility about what is happening in classrooms, hallways, parties, living rooms, bedrooms, and malls as today's adolescents deal with unique pressures and problems. If you are interested in today's high schoolers, both Geeks and Overachievers are must-reads.
Cross-posted on my blog at What's Not Wrong