Tag Archives: social hierarchy

Book Club: In Pursuit of WHY it Gets Better Pt. 2

This month in the Finding delight. virtual book club we’re traveling back to the world of cliques and cafeterias with the help of Alexandra Robbins’ journalistic prowess in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School. This week, I’ve found some extended watching–in the way of interviews, movies and other internet gems–to help us nail down the answer to our over-arching questions: Why do things get better once you’ve taken off that high school cap and gown? How did our own differences suddenly elevate our social experience when before they felt so demoralizing? Check out the videos and review the questions raised throughout this post…remember, we’re traveling back to high school here so there may or may not be a test. ; )

More with Alexandra Robbins

An interview with the author herself in which she discusses why cliques are so prevalent, how schools help instead of hinder the teenage social hierarchy and what parents can do to dissuade their kids from feeling like social outcasts…

What would you tell a high schooler today if they confessed they feel flawed for not fitting into the social in-crowd? 

Robbins delivers a quick PSA on why “You’ve got to be proud to be an outsider.” She rattles off a laundry list of now famous individuals who identified with the outsider label as children or young adults. Now that I’m far enough into “Geeks” to feel like I really know the youth Robbins follows for a year, I have begun to recognize the qualities in their teenage selves that really COULD set them apart as adults. In this video, Robbins talks about Taylor Swift being ostracized in middle school for her intense love of country music. Similarly, the outsiders have qualities which will no doubt put them ahead of the pack in terms of employment, relationships and all sorts of social standing metrics.

Being different makes you awesome and some day people are gonna appreciate you for who you really are.” 

What qualities do you exhibit which exemplify Robbins’ “quirk theory”? Can you think of more examples of individuals who went from outsider to success story?

And just for fun, here is Alexandra Robbins on The Colbert Report discussing another book she wrote about high schoolers–The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids.

How do you think this quest for academic success/college acceptance as end goal affects social inclusion/exclusion? 

Cinematic Renderings of the High School Experience

My top 5 favorite “High School Movies”:

1. Ferris Bueller’s Day off

2. 10 Things I Hate About You

3. The Breakfast Club

4. Mean Girls

5. crazy/beautiful


And if you have a lot of time on your hands just watch all of Friday Night Lights!

What do these films get right about the high school experience? What do they get wrong? What’s your favorite movie about high school? Is there a movie that shaped your own teenage experience simply because it was about teens and you watched it WHILE you were a teen? #meta 

Remembering the Past/Help the Future

In the end, this book strikes a cord with so many because we’ve all been there. While it may be easier to come out the other side and benefit from “quirk theory,” I’d like to challenge you to peek back through that tunnel at the person you were. Have an old VHS tape of a choir competition? Watch it. Did you keep a journal full of poetry and essays? Read it. Look through old photo albums, class assignments, defunct for a decade Livejournals. This little trip down Nostalgia Boulevard could hold valuable information for how you interact with struggling teenagers in the future. It’s easy to put the past behind us and just say “Yeah, high school sucks but it gets better.” But a more concrete answer can be a lot more enlightening. After my own excavation of high school artifacts I’ve found this example: Yes, it was crazy weird that I felt the need to deliver a rather dramatic monologue for a talent show Fall semester of my freshman year of high school. Considering all the popular kids treated speaking in public like a joke and were more focused on sports than spotlights, this was in-crowd suicide. Yet, fast forward four years and speaking in public would get me into college and earn me all kinds of resume boosting awards. Fast forward four more and things like job interviews and work-place negotiations feel like no big deal. With the clarity of over a decade’s removal from that example I can see the difference between me and the in-crowd, in that instance, was bravery.

And now that we’ve isolated some of the things which made us unique in high school and thought of concrete examples for “quirk theory” in our own lives, the final extended watching I would like you to do is….real life, current high schoolers. Go support some kids. As I’ve said before, the school system is doing everything it can to support exclusion by putting certain kids, groups and extracurriculars on a pedestal. Let’s strive to counteract this trend by building up the kids who are different in similar ways to our high school selves. Judge a speech tournament. Go to a play. Buy a piece of art. Donate to a gaming club. Speak at schools about your job. Coach something. Volunteer. Talk to kids about their interests. Cheer for the marching band. Got more ideas? Leave ’em below! I think we can all commit to doing one of these things this month. : ) Let’s do it! 

If you could write a letter to your high school self what would it say? If you could sit down with one group of kids and READ them your letter to yourself who would they be?

 Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal…Does that answer your question? 

~The Breakfast Club~ 


Book Club: In Pursuit of WHY it Gets Better Pt. 1


When Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project” came out in 2010, a series of YouTube videos directed at teenagers who were the victims of homophobic bullying, something didn’t feel right to me. Here were a bunch of stories by people who had, yes, admittedly made it through to the other side, telling our youth a common tale–painstaking childhood, turning point, and a happily ever after. What struck me as unsettling was how un-nuanced this narrative arc was…surely there was more to the story than happenstance. Did we think that little of the children watching that we could only tell them things WOULD get better but not HOW to make them better? Yet, there seems to be a common truth for all those who’ve made it through the hallowed halls of secondary education–gay, straight, or otherwise–perhaps not entirely unscathed but made it through nonetheless; it IS better on the other side. So perhaps the question isn’t “How does this happen?” but “Why?” Why do the teens who didn’t have a spot at the cool cafeteria table end up as success stories in adulthood?

In this month’s book club we are going to attempt to uncover the answer to just that. Perhaps in analyzing why the losers, geeks, and outcasts in American teen culture gain access to a more promising future, we can finally solidify the “how” in our own stories and thereby paint a more holistic picture for our struggling youths than “it just will.” To do this, we will be reading “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School” by Alexandra Robbins. No stranger to writing great non-fiction about the youth of America, Robbins notes in “Geeks” that she kept encountering kids who felt like there was something catastrophically wrong with them because they weren’t popular or they were bullied. In my experience as an educator of middle/high school students at various forensics institutes over the years, I have answered these same worries in ways probably not uncommon to those of you who have found yourselves in a role-model situation. “There’s nothing wrong with you. High school is crazy. The stuff that makes you unique now is gonna make you popular later!” and “The popular people are probably miserable too.”


Robbins takes a more academic approach to her answer and presents “The Quirk Theory,” explaining that the passions, idiosyncrasies, interests and all the stuff that makes one considered weird as a kid are the very quirks that will turn them into cool, interesting, and successful adults. And it’s true–as adults we reward passion; children, for whatever reason, tear it down. As my peers and I settle in comfortably on “the other side,” all it takes is a quick voyeuristic scan on social media to see endless examples of this theory in practice. Oh you can build a computer in your spare time? Awesome! I bet you’re making a shit ton of money. You’re working for an NGO in Botswana? Killer! Your stories are probably super interesting. You just crocheted a whole blanket? WHUT?! The patience! The creativity! Sell that shit on Etsy, dawg! The computer geek. The dirty hippie. The shy girl who sat by herself at lunch. In a matter of years these labels become completely reframed.

Robbins’ book follows 7 high school students labeled as, “the loner, the popular bitch, the nerd, the new girl, the gamer, the weird girl, and the band geek.” Following each student for a school year, you begin to recognize these people. Maybe you see yourself or someone you knew. Peppered in between these narratives are essays on popularity, how schools make the social scene more intense and the psychology of exclusion; all of which seek to help answer our underlying question–why did everything we hated about ourselves in high school, all the things that made us different and therefore BAD, suddenly turn us into the best versions of ourselves? How in Jesus’ name did we grow-up and suddenly get cool?

In a world where we’re spending tons of money on anti-bullying campaigns and initiatives, as I begin this book, the glaring systemic problem seems to be something we’ve yet to address. By promoting certain activities over others, the school systems are basically telling kids who should be bullied and who should do the bullying. As adults, I think we can do better. This discrepancy obviously hits close to home. I was a speech dork in high school–competing for a team who split their time 50/50 between practice and fundraising. We rehearsed on the same loop upstairs that the cross-country team ran on;  as we spoke to walls, snickering runners continuously lapped us in a never-ending stampede. Would our popularity trajectories have looked differently if the school was buying US new suits instead of the swim team? Who’s to say?

In an attempt to get to the bottom of all of this, why not join in the book club fun? A book club, you ask? FUN?!? That would soooo not have been cool in high school! So celebrate your adult-self and all the nerdiness you’re now allowed. Pick up a copy of “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School” by Alexandra Robbins and let’s get weird.

(Top image via here.)

Any initial thoughts? Do you feel like you had a label in high school? What weird things about your high school self do you find gains you positive attention as an adult? What would you tell a student who is struggling with their outcast status today? Feel free to leave your answers in the comments below! And tune in each Friday!