Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Quirk Theory

So, if homeschooled kids are weird, different, quirky and odd.... then they may well be on the track to future success, according to Alexandra Robbins.

She actually doesn't mention homeschooling in her book The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth:  Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School,  but the message is clear that the very things that put kids in the "cafeteria fringe" are the things that make for interesting, successful adults likely to leave their mark on the world.

Things like creativity, passion for achievement, imagination, divergent thinking, resilience, flexibility, and yes, courage -- for it takes courage to be different.   Many of these qualities are shared by homeschoolers, and if you are feeling slightly guilty because your child is marked out as different because he doesn't go to school, the book might help to reassure you that this very differentness can add up to a success trait. 

This is the second book I've read by Alexandra Robbins (the first was The Overachievers:  The Secret Lives of Driven Kids).

The format was similar:

  • Robbins selects a small group of students who are representative of her topic in different ways and follows their lives more or less through a school year.
  • She springboards from  these particular details to make broader, researched points about her topic in general.
In this book, she also does something new -- rather than just observe and document, she gets involved in the situation by challenging each of the students to do meet a goal to make their high school experience happier and more like what they want for themselves.  

So Whitney, the "popular" girl who hates how mean she has to be to stay in the "in" crowd, attempts to try to be more herself and kinder to the other kids in school, even the "losers".   Blue, a self-described gamer/otaku, is challenged to try to make friends with some of the intellectual kids in his AP classes rather than just hang out with the less mature gamers in his old crowd;  Joy, a recent immigrant from Jamaica, sets herself a goal of not trying to  hide her birth culture, and of nurturing her desire to be helpful to others around her.  

Even though it is specifically about the high school experience, this book reminds me a bit of Grace Llewellyn's books like Real Lives:  Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School.   Robbins, like Llewellyn, treats the high schoolers' lives, aspirations and challenges seriously.   They are seen as real people, young adults trying their best to succeed in the environment they are in.   Their individuality is seen as a plus rather than something to be stifled. 

Robbins showcases a few examples of famous people who were considered geeks and uncool by their peer group and teachers  in high school, including Steven Spielberg, Albert Einstein, Bruce Springsteen, and some fashion designer whose name I can't remember right now.   

The book also adds up to a critique of institutional schooling as it exists in our society, particularly the pressures to conform which come both from the peer group and from the standardized test-driven curriculum.  There is even mention of how the school administration can become a grownup echo of the high school scene, with cliques, in-groups, shunning, and drama, which makes the adult figures in the school environment either detached from persecution and bullying, or sometimes even complicit in it.   The same can be true for parents; she describes parents who are so desperate for their kids to be accepted that they come off as annoyed with their kids for refusing to drink at parties, and other parents who send their kids the message that they are unhappy because their kids don't meet the increasingly narrow definition of "normal". 

 More here: 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds interesting. I wonder if my kids' quirkiness predisposes them to success, or if we're too far outside the boundaries of normal to qualify. :-P

    BTW, I remember Bill Gates telling high school students something like, "Be nice to geeks. Chances are, you'll end up working for one."


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