Friday, October 17, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds?

My preteen is standing, nearly naked, atop a heap of clothes he has yanked from his drawers and rejected upon the floor.

MOM, he wails, THESE MAKE ME LOOK LIKE A DORK. Everyone makes fun of me because I dress like a dork. These clothes are NOT cool.

He picked out these clothes. Plain athletic wear, nary an uncomfortable seam or fastener, the entire pile. They were bought and paid for with hard earned money, money which I no longer have. So new clothes are not an option.

So I stand back, load my information shotgun, and fire. Because, you see, whenever we fail miserably as parents, my son threatens to leave and become a waif on Bill Gates' doorstep, hoping to be adopted by my son's vision of the perfect dad.

Dude, say I, are you aware that growing up, Bill Gates was a dork? And most fashion mavens agree, he is still a dork? Most of the freshman class of Harvard is made up of Dorks (He says that’s his goal for college though I think that may be a long shot). MIT and University of Chicago—loaded with dorks. Every single Nobel Prize winner? Yup, a dork. And Warren Buffet? A dork.

You know who wasn’t a dork? You know who everyone thought was their friendly cool guy? George Bush.

My son, I opine, in the end, Dorks through history have advanced humanity from caves and invented Iphones. It is good to be a dork.

I leave him, half dressed to contemplate this skewed world view. From a mother who retaliates by blasting sopranos singing in Italian when neighboring speakers rattle my windshields at stoplights (this was my eldest child’s idea—Blast Opera! She cries,being quite happily, a dork)

But as I walk down the hallway, I wonder, when did being smart and rule abiding become an anathema? And I realize, it’s always been that way. At least since the dark ages when I was in school more than 30 years ago. From the moment you enter the school system, being the smart kid will exact a heavy price. Smart kids will be ostracized, beat up. Aside from the scholarship money, there is no advantage to winning the science fair. Oh, the principal may shake your hand, but NO ONE will sit with you at lunch. Sheer animal strength will get you celebrity status, athletic prowess will elevate one to a godlike pedestal, but if your kid is ranked a grand master in chess they will be at best ignored, at worst pulverized in a little trafficked corner of some hallway. The peer pressure to be “like everyone else” includes NOT being smarter, or gifted in anything intellectual. You see this in No Child Left Behind. They don’t call it All Children will Excel. And resources are all to bring the bottom up, not help the best and brightest speed ahead. In fact, precociousness and intelligence are a social liability in the classroom—the teacher sends you to the library or needs you to help the other kids, which singles you out and makes you a Dork or teachers pet—a fate worse than excommunication. So the pressure to be dumber than you are is huge.

We are a culture that does not just devalue intelligence—we denigrate it. And that is what has brought this nation to its current pickle. Sinking to the lowest common denominator dilutes all that is good and right and causes the Dow to sink 900 points in a day. If America wants to drag itself out of the pit we have fallen into, if we don’t want to end up like the Romans, well it better be All Dorks on Deck. We need everybody to be smarter and better. We need armies of teacher’s pets, honest smart folks working at banks and financial institutions. And we need some super duper dorks to invent the next Internet which will provide us with opportunities and business models and jobs we cannot even imagine at this point.

The populists rant against Elitism, but you know what, the fastest growing economies in the world don’t have that prejudice. They sink a lot of capital into their smart folks and it pays off in spades. We can't even give smart kids free rides to college--other countries send their smart kids to our schools and foot the entire bill.

So our only hope is Dorks. Now if I can just sell that idea to an 11 year old boy, trying to fit in……

1 comment:

2KoP said...

My smart, newly-minted 12-year-old boy gave a great dissertation yesterday on the ride to school about how peer pressure affects almost everything in the world, and that it's important to listen to a lot of people, but to make your own decisions regardless of what anyone thinks. Go dorks!

That being said, my three boys so don't care about how they look that it's sad. Clothes are all about comfort. My goal is to begin to wean them off elastic-waist pants. There's good dork and there's sad dork, you know what I mean?