Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

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Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Vaniver » Fri Jun 25, 2010 7:03 pm UTC

A fascinating article, and well worth reading for anyone still stuck in that prison. My experience was better than his, but a lot of abstractions fit well.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Ivor Zozz » Fri Jun 25, 2010 7:50 pm UTC

It's not that being smart makes people unpopular, it's that being unathletic, socially awkward, and / or ugly (by whatever standard kids use) makes you unpopular. Being smart has little to do with it one way or the other, as there are plenty of popular smart kids and unpopular dumb kids.

Those who are unathletic, socially awkward, and / or ugly and also smart will often come to have hyperdeveloped academic abilities, because they focus on the one area they know they are superior in and start to pull past everyone else. Then they become known as "nerds."

This is how I remember it working in my school, at least.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Azrael001 » Fri Jun 25, 2010 8:05 pm UTC

He's got some really interesting ideas there. Thanks.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Glmclain » Sat Jun 26, 2010 10:48 pm UTC

I'm still in school and I go through this a lot.

I'm very creative and love nerdy stuff (Star Wars, Dr. Who, Lord of the Rings) so I'm always trying to find ways to have fun with my essays and assignments. It even gets to the point where the other students make fun of me for being "too creative" in my creative writing class, because everyone else took it for an "easy A."

Maybe it's just teenage rebellion, but it seems like wanting to learn and being smart make you unpopular as if it's "uncool" to know stuff.

"You actually LIKE history?"
"Yeah, it's interesting"
"You're such a creepy weirdo"

Fuck you [name omitted]
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby wigglyworm91 » Sun Jun 27, 2010 2:07 am UTC

You might consider warning people that it's, like, 5000 words long somewhere in that post. It's fascinating, but very long (It doesn't ramble; it covers many things related to the subject).

IIRC, Freakonomics has something to say about the same subject.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Odd_nonposter » Sun Jun 27, 2010 2:50 am UTC

I enjoyed reading that essay. I would say more right now, but it is quite late.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby The EGE » Sun Jun 27, 2010 4:09 am UTC

Very interesting. I really wish I had this when I was in seventh grade. Or earlier, because fourth graders can be just as vicious. I strongly agree with so much here.

And, it manages to avoid a lot of accepted stereotype, even when talking about a rather steroetyped group. He even avoided the 'nerds don't date' stereotype, which is rather strong in my area. Although, I'm dating a fellow nerd, as is a nerdy friend.

I find it interesting that in his time, the marijuana smokers were the smart ones. Here, it's the dumb ones that do.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby trebor » Mon Jun 28, 2010 12:56 pm UTC

I have some serious issues with some parts of his argument. To outline where I'm coming from with my point of view, I am currently at school in Victoria, Australia. (A very high achieving school, probably accounting for my different point of view)

We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards."


ARE AMERICAN SCHOOLS REALLY LIKE THIS!?!?!?!? Seriously, I thought that was just what you put in your crappy TV shows that we watch. Do people really sort themselves out into such well defined cliques? Can a jock also not be a musician? Obviously I understand that people are likely to form friendships with people that share similar interests and thus hang out in similar groups, but at my school people are encouraged to do so many different things with their time that you form so many friendships that in my experience you will end up interacting with so many different "groups" that you can't possibly be identified as a member of one "group" only.

but only at the price of being of average intelligence


As an aside, does anyone realise how low the 'average' actually appears to be? People aren't nearly as educated as they should be. This is a cultural issue I believe.

I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity. Navy SEALs and neurosurgery residents seem slackers by comparison. They occasionally take vacations; some even have hobbies. An American teenager may work at being popular every waking hour, 365 days a year.


This thought has so many things wrong with it.......It is my experience that those that are truly popular and are well liked by most (this is what popularity is, not a arbitrary title given to jocks and cheerleaders only) are the people that challenge themselves and find a good balance between school, sport, music, social life, work, family...etc. People that find this balance are more likely to be 'healthy' mentally, emotionally, and physically, and thus naturally attract other people and form friendships. These people don't work at being 'popular' they work to please themselves and improve themselves.

but what I really mean here is that teenagers are always on duty as conformists


Have you ever heard of being your own person? Some of the most well liked people I know, and the people I respect the most are their own person and don't care what society says they must do.

Likewise, popular isn't just something you are or you aren't, but something you make yourself.


I agree completely with this. I cannot say how much I agree, but lets say it's a lot!

Few smart kids can spare the attention that popularity requires. Unless they also happen to be good-looking, natural athletes, or siblings of popular kids, they'll tend to become nerds.


I think this is being looked at backwards, natural athletes I find are also incredibly smart. Athletes aren't just natural but they work hard for it, it is this ability to work hard that lends itself to other aspects of life such as being smart. (The average ENTER score achieved by our rowing squad is consistently in the 90th percentile, infact I am lead to believe that last years Girls 1sts had 2 girls over 99% with one girl achieving a perfect ENTER of 99.95 Athletes by any definition of the word)

To become more popular, you need to be constantly doing things that bring you close to other popular people


NO KIDDING! People are attracted to popular (friendly/Well liked) people! IN OTHER NEWS....Recognising the obvious.

Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens' main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I've read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.


I do agree with this, this is a huge issue that needs to be addressed at a social and cultural level. Many people aren't willing to learn, and as such school are treated like prison, in eager students breeds lacklustre effort in teaching (I want to be a teacher, and can see how trying to teach near literal brick walls can be demoralising). My school has a very strong culture of eagerness to learn and challenge ourselves; this is why we do well. If we can instil this culture, how can other underperforming schools instil this culture? (I don't know...food for thought)

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Jun 28, 2010 2:56 pm UTC

trebor wrote:I have some serious issues with some parts of his argument. To outline where I'm coming from with my point of view, I am currently at school in Victoria, Australia. (A very high achieving school, probably accounting for my different point of view)

We graded them from A to E. A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards."


ARE AMERICAN SCHOOLS REALLY LIKE THIS!?!?!?!? Seriously, I thought that was just what you put in your crappy TV shows that we watch. Do people really sort themselves out into such well defined cliques? Can a jock also not be a musician? Obviously I understand that people are likely to form friendships with people that share similar interests and thus hang out in similar groups, but at my school people are encouraged to do so many different things with their time that you form so many friendships that in my experience you will end up interacting with so many different "groups" that you can't possibly be identified as a member of one "group" only.


Unfortunately, in my experience, yes. That's not to say that people cannot belong to more than one group, but they were quite rigid. What you have to remember is that a person can do more than one thing, but they'll be known for the most popular activity they do. For example - I knew many athletes who were involved in band or advanced classes or art, but they were seen mostly as athletes, and their popularity was such.

trebor wrote:
I wonder if anyone in the world works harder at anything than American school kids work at popularity. Navy SEALs and neurosurgery residents seem slackers by comparison. They occasionally take vacations; some even have hobbies. An American teenager may work at being popular every waking hour, 365 days a year.


This thought has so many things wrong with it.......It is my experience that those that are truly popular and are well liked by most (this is what popularity is, not a arbitrary title given to jocks and cheerleaders only) are the people that challenge themselves and find a good balance between school, sport, music, social life, work, family...etc. People that find this balance are more likely to be 'healthy' mentally, emotionally, and physically, and thus naturally attract other people and form friendships. These people don't work at being 'popular' they work to please themselves and improve themselves.

but what I really mean here is that teenagers are always on duty as conformists


Have you ever heard of being your own person? Some of the most well liked people I know, and the people I respect the most are their own person and don't care what society says they must do.


What planet are you living on? I want to go there! Unfortunately, when people say they want someone to be their own person, they actually have a very set opinion of what is considered ok to deviate from, and what is not. Perhaps a slightly exaggerated example, but think about the "goth scene". As far as I understood, the original intent was to be different and to show you were not like anyone else. Well, nearly everyone who is goth looks the same. It's acceptable to deviate from the standard in that certain way.

trebor wrote:
Few smart kids can spare the attention that popularity requires. Unless they also happen to be good-looking, natural athletes, or siblings of popular kids, they'll tend to become nerds.


I think this is being looked at backwards, natural athletes I find are also incredibly smart. Athletes aren't just natural but they work hard for it, it is this ability to work hard that lends itself to other aspects of life such as being smart. (The average ENTER score achieved by our rowing squad is consistently in the 90th percentile, infact I am lead to believe that last years Girls 1sts had 2 girls over 99% with one girl achieving a perfect ENTER of 99.95 Athletes by any definition of the word)


This is true, but once again those who are smart and athletic will not be classified as nerds, just intelligent athletes.

I really think that the author really hit it on the head. Perhaps it's simply a case of hearing what I want to hear, but I do think he makes very valid points. As much as I didn't want to be ostracized, doing schoolwork and being on the robotics team and marching in the band were far more important to me, as I could see their merit.

Besides having many (often fake) friends, I couldn't see the long term merits of being popular.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Internetmeme » Mon Jun 28, 2010 8:45 pm UTC

This article...
is the story of my life.
*cries*
Am I really that simple?
Spoiler:

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby EFT Tapping » Wed Jun 30, 2010 12:31 am UTC

High school was never like that for me... Maybe because I went a really big, urban school? I was in AP classes, but was still relatively popular. But again, my school didn't have your stereotypical social divisions. The rich kids had the best parties, but they were also the smart ones for the most part. I might be able to name a couple of cheerleaders, but I wouldn't know a football player if he came up and smacked me. There were some nerdy smart boys, but they never got picked on (as far as I know). Interesting, anyway. Maybe this kind of stuff happens more in the midwest?

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby mmmcannibalism » Wed Jun 30, 2010 1:12 am UTC

So nerd aren't popular because they don't care about being popular because they care about schoolwork; and popular kids are popular because they devote time to being liked by everyone except the nerds...this is not shocking information.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Revolution0 » Wed Jun 30, 2010 2:50 am UTC

Our school is divided into the following groups:

1.Those that couldn't care less- The majority of our school
2.The hard working people who aren't the smartest, but are capable, and often take AP classes
3.The average that work hard/very smart who don't really try
4.The ubersmart people that everyone hates because they need to remind you how much better they are than you
5.The "elite", who are smarter and more capable than the others, and both sides know it, but neither pushes it.

Groups 2, 3, and 5 tend to mix all the time at our school.
Group 1 tends to respect groups 3 and 5, but ironically calls group 2 the nerds.
Group 4 is universally hated/shunned, mainly because they're generally unlikable people who don't shut up about how they're better than you
Group 5 may not be the highest up the "food chain", but they don't get messed with, and they're the ones that are always the homecoming kings/queens.

Those of us in group five may not be the "coolest", but we're certainly considered popular.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby tastelikecoke » Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:35 am UTC

Unfortunately, in my experience, yes. That's not to say that people cannot belong to more than one group, but they were quite rigid. What you have to remember is that a person can do more than one thing, but they'll be known for the most popular activity they do. For example - I knew many athletes who were involved in band or advanced classes or art, but they were seen mostly as athletes, and their popularity was such.


Good god, I'll never let my future kids in America. I didn't have that cafeteria sorting machine experience.

I like the reading of this passage. But I study on some science high school, some place where they condense alot of smart people. In here popularity and smartness is NOT our tendency. You make friends. The larger the amount of your friends are, the more satisfying it gets. Being popular means sitting on a bunch of people flirting each other and backstabbing each other. The more hobbies you share, the more closer your friends are. A group of people in my place play DotA, talks about DotA in their classes and they are way better than me.

i saw a lot of E people in our high school. They just go about stalking people, shouting random stuff. Really creepy. They really do look (as offensively as it may be) retarded too, I feel bad for them, but seriously they act so awkward.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:38 am UTC

Revolution0 wrote:Our school is divided into the following groups:

1.Those that couldn't care less- The majority of our school
2.The hard working people who aren't the smartest, but are capable, and often take AP classes
3.The average that work hard/very smart who don't really try
4.The ubersmart people that everyone hates because they need to remind you how much better they are than you
5.The "elite", who are smarter and more capable than the others, and both sides know it, but neither pushes it.

Groups 2, 3, and 5 tend to mix all the time at our school.
Group 1 tends to respect groups 3 and 5, but ironically calls group 2 the nerds.
Group 4 is universally hated/shunned, mainly because they're generally unlikable people who don't shut up about how they're better than you
Group 5 may not be the highest up the "food chain", but they don't get messed with, and they're the ones that are always the homecoming kings/queens.

Those of us in group five may not be the "coolest", but we're certainly considered popular.

That sounds like my school, although we didn't really have a significant Group IV and things like HK queens and whatnot were rather random (between groups) in selection or nominated as a joke. (I didn't go to prom because I was in no mood to be electrocuted by the DJ lights falling into fire sprinkler water /s) We also had the non-caring section divided with the normal people who have better things to do and the poser-ghetto imports from c-bus public (in exchange for free water and sewer for my hometown)
tastes wrote:saw a lot of E people in our high school. They just go about stalking people, shouting random stuff. Really creepy. They really do look (as offensively as it may be) retarded too, I feel bad for them, but seriously they act so awkward.

E people?
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby tastelikecoke » Wed Jun 30, 2010 5:46 am UTC

PG wrote:E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards."

Sorry, wrong terms.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby sikyon » Wed Jun 30, 2010 12:33 pm UTC

Popularity breeds popularity. Popularity is how many friends you have.

If you have more friends, you will have more opportunities to meet people outside of your social circle. You can then make those people your friends.

I agree with this essay when it says that nerds arn't popular becuase they don't want to be popular. You truley need to dedicate yourself to a craft to excel in it - nothing comes free of effort.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Odd_nonposter » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:38 pm UTC

My school sort of mangled the stereotypical "tear drop of popularity" shape and "athleticism = popularity = inverse of intelligence" proportion by introducing a selective measure for intelligence in middle school.

The program, termed MAAP (Most A... A... People; I forget what the A's stand for) mixed the nerd and ace-of-all-trades groups during the social stratification phase of middle school. This group had all of their advanced classes, recesses, lunch periods, etc. together and did some activities with the class above and below them in the same program. As a result, the nerdier class of kids made friends with the ace-of-alls, who, in turn, knew and were friends with everybody else.

You cannot believe how much this helped me get to where I am socially. Without that program, I would be the most downtrodden person in the school system. I cried when teacher retirement and budget cuts removed the MAAP program.

Plus, in high school, they introduced a firm dress code that blurred the edges of the cliques. Yes, you have the MAAPers, jocks, don't-care-at-alls, dorks, etc., just as you would in other schools. However, since mode of dress is similar across all cliques, people are not as afraid of mixing and joining other cliques as they would ordinarily.

tl;dr: make your school get a gifted program in the middle school level and institute a work casual dress code.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Wed Jun 30, 2010 9:17 pm UTC

I don't see a dress code working at my former school. Popular kids will continue to be popular (and celebrated if they break the dress code) and losers will simply be losers in different clothes
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Dark Avorian » Fri Jul 02, 2010 6:33 pm UTC

Progressive, expensive, small, independent school. Cannot relate. I'm one of the top kids in my class, yet I have all the friends I need and know everyone in the grade pretty damn well...
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby ++$_ » Sat Jul 03, 2010 8:35 pm UTC

I disagree with the essay based on my experience in high school. It's a very jocky school, but we had a rather unusual class in terms of density of nerds. (For example, one year, 15 people out of the class of 120 qualified for the AIME). As a result, in that class (only), the best way to be popular was to be a nerd, take computer science and math, play computer games during lunch, and do math contests. Nearly all of our class representatives in student government were nerds, for example.

I conclude that which group is popular is determined mostly by how big the groups are relative to each other.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Vaniver » Tue Jul 06, 2010 9:08 pm UTC

trebor wrote:ARE AMERICAN SCHOOLS REALLY LIKE THIS!?!?!?!? Seriously, I thought that was just what you put in your crappy TV shows that we watch. Do people really sort themselves out into such well defined cliques? Can a jock also not be a musician? Obviously I understand that people are likely to form friendships with people that share similar interests and thus hang out in similar groups, but at my school people are encouraged to do so many different things with their time that you form so many friendships that in my experience you will end up interacting with so many different "groups" that you can't possibly be identified as a member of one "group" only.
It strongly depends on the school. The school I went to, the most popular set were people who were good at both athletics and academics, and consequently did not get much sleep as a group. As well, notice that he's talking about lunch in the cafeteria. I typically ate lunch outside the library then read through lunchtime- isolating me somewhat- and then in my later years in high school they made lunch a free time for clubs to meet, isolating even more groups. The kids of It's Ac were probably C or Ds (except for one of us) but, as we weren't in the cafeteria, we didn't notice.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby meatyochre » Tue Jul 06, 2010 10:35 pm UTC

I liked it. I was pretty clueless about social interaction (as in, I didn't even know I was unpopular) until around 8th grade though. I just hung out with other kids in band and was fairly happy and innocent :)

Unfortunately, in high school I started to realize that certain people wanted to take advantage of my intelligence without actually being friends with me. I was asked to "help" popular kids with their homework for a few-months' stretch, though they seemed to get the message that I wasn't interested in helping people who wouldn't give me the time of day afterward.

At that point, realizing that "the popular kids" wanted to use me, I purposely became much less approachable and more prickly to non-friends (though I was still happy and popular in band) than I had been up to that point. I was never in anyone's face with my test scores, but I wouldn't lie about them when asked, either. And I was asked about them often because well, it was always obvious that I was the first kid done with assignments and I always got high grades, too.

So I guess to sum up, my lack of popularity was at least partially self-inflicted. I was a HUGE reader as a kid, it was my only leisure activity since my family was low income, we lived near the library, and plus, goodwill had super cheap books (5 cents apiece!). It was kind of shocking for me to learn around 8th grade that not everybody liked learning and school as much as I did. But a huge reason I loved school so much was because of the friends I made in band.

I definitely plan to get my future children involved in music (band/orchestra) or choir or theatre. I feel like having a creative activity in common begets automatic friendships (far more than the general school population), and it fosters an environment where skill and intellect are more likely to be cherished. It's also kind of insular and escapist, and I like that. There were cliques (I hate to use that term since EVERYONE got along, but there were still small divisions, often by section or seatmates) in my band, but the coolest band kids were generally the ones who were best at playing. I like that kind of hierarchy much better than who is the best-looking or has the most older friends who can buy them beer.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Adacore » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:07 pm UTC

Odd_nonposter wrote:My school sort of mangled the stereotypical "tear drop of popularity" shape and "athleticism = popularity = inverse of intelligence" proportion by introducing a selective measure for intelligence in middle school.

The program, termed MAAP (Most A... A... People; I forget what the A's stand for) mixed the nerd and ace-of-all-trades groups during the social stratification phase of middle school. This group had all of their advanced classes, recesses, lunch periods, etc. together and did some activities with the class above and below them in the same program. As a result, the nerdier class of kids made friends with the ace-of-alls, who, in turn, knew and were friends with everybody else.

You cannot believe how much this helped me get to where I am socially. Without that program, I would be the most downtrodden person in the school system. I cried when teacher retirement and budget cuts removed the MAAP program.

Very, very, very this. I have always considered ability-streaming absolutely vital for a good highschool environment with regard to actually delivering a good standard of education to all pupils. I hadn't considered the social implications as much, but reading both the article and your comment, I completely agree that an ability-streamed school would have a massive effect on that problem too. It both makes being smart something with more of a tangible reason to work towards for the non-'nerds' (thus somewhat removing the stigma and the sole focus on being popular), and also significantly increases the social interaction between groups.

Also, if y'all didn't notice it, there's a brief follow-up piece in FAQ-style on the site too.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby tastelikecoke » Wed Jul 07, 2010 2:33 pm UTC

I can't believe this. School are really this stereotypical?

Honestly, I haven't saw the fine line of nerd and non-nerd during grade school, which suddenly changed a lot in high school.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby frostwarrior » Tue Jul 20, 2010 9:37 am UTC

:)

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby not good at these things » Sun Oct 17, 2010 10:30 pm UTC

My high school was not this stereotypical at all. I wonder if it's because we were an inner city public school full of low income students. I know all of us that wanted to go to college and applied for financial aid had 0 EFCs (because we high-fived over it saying "wooo! being poor pays off!") and everyone had free lunch. Also our football team just sucked, brutally we were the 2nd worst team in the district and our cheerleaders were kind of a joke as well. There wasn't really a "popular" crowd, I remember one girl kinda acting like a stereotypical popular girl but everyone seriously hated her and made it obvious, I remember seeing her crying because even though she'd been in student council all 4 years (the only one to do so) she was beaten out by 2 kids who just decided to run for class president on a whim and they both beat her. I felt bad but she was just so mean as well.

Mainly 70% of the school just didn't care about anything really but being in high school was decently fun (you know, hanging with friends, eating free food, slacking in classes). 30% wanted to actually possibly go to college so we were usually in either AP or IB programs, academic decathlon, whatever. There were friends between both groups, my two best friends were one guy in IB with me and a girl who smoked pot and just wanted to go to trade school. We also had a sweet cosmo and mechanic program that let kids graduate with some kind of a trade certificate along with their diploma. A lot of kids also did JROTC and seemed to be going into the military, funny enough we had a high gay population that was also mostly in the JROTC (held LGBT meeting in there even). We also had a lot of pregnant girls but it wasn't like Juno, it was more like "oh, you're pregnant? eh, go back to class and maybe take a month off of school later on".

But this was an inner city public school that was mostly mexican-american (~97% actually), not some suburban place. I'd never have my kid go to a suburban school, I would have hated to go to one and I think so would my kid. I really liked high school, lot of fun and I loved my friends.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Eastwinn » Mon Oct 18, 2010 11:34 pm UTC

While I'm extremely tempted to agree that highscool is all just a game, could it be that both of our teenage rebellious spirits are speaking?
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby DavidSpencer » Wed Feb 09, 2011 1:20 am UTC

From my experience, this isn't always true. I would have agreed with this in sixth grade, but a year later I switched classes and ended up with a smarter group of students. I made friends there, which led me to trust people more. Now that I had more trust, I acted more freely and befriended some less intelligent people as well. I'm now a sophomore in high school with friends in a bunch of different social circles.

This isn't unique to me - almost all of the other students that I would consider highly intelligent have wide groups of friends and aren't bullied in the least. My school system is nothing special, but people I know in other schools also seem to be equally satisfied with their lives. I certainly don't think I'd be able to divide lunch tables as the author did - although some groups are slightly more popular than others, I don't see any bulling or significant cliquish behavior.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby lolol » Wed Feb 09, 2011 1:43 am UTC

Did not read TFA, but I can give my version of high school.

Really small school (~100 students/class.) Our cliques really blend together, and most people have friends from different groups. Most of the popular kids are in AP classes. This is like what the above poster said, it's all relative to the number of students in each clique. Our "jocks" don't pick on the "nerds" much, since most of us AP kids are on the football team. (3/5 of our offensive linemen are in AP Calc AB, another is in other AP classes, and the fourth isn't in any, but makes honor roll. Breaking the mold lol.) There are also a lot of gay/ lesbian kids in our school. They are probably the group that gets made fun of the 2nd most. Group that gets made fun of the most is the dumb kids (in the sense that they don't value education, or anything really)/ slackers.


Just my perspective.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby engr » Wed Feb 09, 2011 4:40 am UTC

I suspect that unpopularity comes first and success in studies is a consequence of that. Or, at least, that it is a chicken-or-egg thing.
i.e. unpopular kids still want to be successful at something (studying) and have someone's approval (adults'). In other words, the choice is not between being popular vs. being unpopular; the choice is between being smart and unpopular vs. dumb and unpopular.
It also may play a role they don't have to choose between studying and hanging out with friends, etc. You get the idea.
Then t he whole thing becomes self-sustaining, because the nerds 1) become good at studying 2) actually start liking to learn 3) get rejected by peers even more.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby RebeccaRGB » Thu Feb 10, 2011 9:44 am UTC

Here's my perspective.

American schools really are this cliquey, at least when the student body is sufficiently large. They're not always as vicious as you see on TV, but the students do tend to split up into mostly isolated groups. At my first high school, with about 4000 students, I was in band, but I was never accepted into the band clique. I tried hanging out with the clique over by the trees in the quad area, but I wasn't accepted there either. I was accepted into the "weirdo clique" that hung out in an area on the outskirts of campus that we called the grassy knoll.

My second high school was much smaller, around 200 students total, so it wasn't as cliquey: practically everybody knew each other. We did still form small cliques though, they just weren't so isolated. I was in two: one called NTHSMAS, and one called the Evil Corner Homies.

My middle school was also small, around 150 I think, and it was similar. Practically everybody knew each other, still formed small cliques though, they just weren't so isolated either. I don't remember what our clique was called; the Goof Troop, maybe?

In summary: A small school, less than about 50 people, won't be very cliquey, because there's not enough people. A medium school, around 50-300 people, will be a little cliquey: cliques will form, but they'll tend to overlap and mix with each other. Any bigger, and the school will become very cliquey, where all the cliques like to stay isolated from each other. The numbers here are complete guesses.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Bluggo » Thu Feb 10, 2011 10:42 am UTC

My own experience was rather different: I was rather unpopular in Middle and High School, sure, but thinking back to it I am fairly sure that most of the fault lied with me, and not with the system or with the "jocks".

I belonged to a huge extended family and I had a good number of "external" friends (mostly, children of friends of relatives of mine, and their friends, and so on), so I was not starved for friendship or attention; and so, after a few unpleasant experiences in elementary school, I decided that I did not care at all about making friends there. As far as I was concerned, school was just a place with a nice library were I learned stuff and got lauded by teachers for my academic achievements - pity that it was infested by rude, annoying morons, but after all it did not take much effort to get them to ignore me.

Some of this mindset stuck with me until the end of High School, and thinking back to it, I was not exactly a nice person when in school - I considered "jocks" far below me, and I pretty much blew off a number of attempts of other students to be friendly with me (often, without even noticing it at the moment).

Now, almost certainly I was an above-average twit when in school, but I have to wonder if something like that does not account, up to same degree, to "nerds" being unpopular - it's all well and good to value intelligence, but if one considers other people as beneath him then he or she cannot be surprised that they will not be friendly towards him.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby AnInnocentThought » Fri Feb 11, 2011 12:11 am UTC

That's odd, at my school I would be considered very popular and the people I hang around make fun of people that tend to show a lack of intelligence. Rarely do we call the unpopular kids nerds, we would not give them that honor. Who you are calling "nerds" we call "freaks"

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Kurushimi » Tue Mar 15, 2011 9:29 pm UTC

I go to a private school, that's really small compared to public schools. There are 50-60 kids in my grade and less than 300 in the entire highschool. In fact, it seems that accomplishment in academics is a positive factor for popularity. I don't think you can consider this a particularly representative though.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby sakekasi » Tue Mar 15, 2011 11:34 pm UTC

Our school is divided into the following groups:

1.Those that couldn't care less- The majority of our school
2.The hard working people who aren't the smartest, but are capable, and often take AP classes
3.The average that work hard/very smart who don't really try
4.The ubersmart people that everyone hates because they need to remind you how much better they are than you
5.The "elite", who are smarter and more capable than the others, and both sides know it, but neither pushes it.

Groups 2, 3, and 5 tend to mix all the time at our school.
Group 1 tends to respect groups 3 and 5, but ironically calls group 2 the nerds.
Group 4 is universally hated/shunned, mainly because they're generally unlikable people who don't shut up about how they're better than you
Group 5 may not be the highest up the "food chain", but they don't get messed with, and they're the ones that are always the homecoming kings/queens.

Those of us in group five may not be the "coolest", but we're certainly considered popular.


Same here. group 5 ftw!
Just a note though, group 5 has a lot of internal pressure. If ur in the elite, you're always trying to prove how much better u r than others in the group. Constant 1uping. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I get sick of it.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby modularblues » Wed Mar 16, 2011 9:17 am UTC

To quote Dr. Gil Grissom (CSI), I was a "ghost" from 5th grade to high school. Even college. Orthogonal to basically everyone else. I hated my pre-college neighborhood... a fucking preppy and boring American suburb. [Self-censoring a crap-load of complaints]

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby FuzzyPanda » Wed Mar 16, 2011 7:11 pm UTC

I think architecture also has something to do with a school's culture. At my high school, we had a long, wide, color-coded hallway down the center of the school and more entrances/exits than anyone bothered to count (or lock). The purpose of this hall was to encourage a blending of all the social castes, but actually had the opposite effect. The deaf kids all hung out in the yellow section, the hipster/indie kids (they didn't really make a distinction) hung out in green, the northface girls hung out at the purple tree, etc. This created an intensely divided culture at our school in which people rarely left their own groups.

Strangely, this also led to a lack of any real hierarchy at our school - everyone was generally on the same level (except the kids who lacked social etiquette AND basic intelligence).

In contrast, my junior high school was ring shaped and had two usable entrances. All the eighth graders were concentrated in a single hallway on a single floor for most of their day and so it was impossible for us to get away from each other by physical distance. We simply created the social divisions to prevent ourselves from mixing.

This is not to say that all the other factors are unimportant, just that planners should be very careful about how they set up schools.

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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:19 pm UTC

sakekasi wrote:
Our school is divided into the following groups:

1.Those that couldn't care less- The majority of our school
2.The hard working people who aren't the smartest, but are capable, and often take AP classes
3.The average that work hard/very smart who don't really try
4.The ubersmart people that everyone hates because they need to remind you how much better they are than you
5.The "elite", who are smarter and more capable than the others, and both sides know it, but neither pushes it.

Groups 2, 3, and 5 tend to mix all the time at our school.
Group 1 tends to respect groups 3 and 5, but ironically calls group 2 the nerds.
Group 4 is universally hated/shunned, mainly because they're generally unlikable people who don't shut up about how they're better than you
Group 5 may not be the highest up the "food chain", but they don't get messed with, and they're the ones that are always the homecoming kings/queens.

Those of us in group five may not be the "coolest", but we're certainly considered popular.


Same here. group 5 ftw!
Just a note though, group 5 has a lot of internal pressure. If ur in the elite, you're always trying to prove how much better u r than others in the group. Constant 1uping. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I get sick of it.

I 1-upped everyone by inventing a new dick-measuring contest and dropping out of their asinine competitions.
modularblues wrote:To quote Dr. Gil Grissom (CSI), I was a "ghost" from 5th grade to high school. Even college. Orthogonal to basically everyone else. I hated my pre-college neighborhood... a fucking preppy and boring American suburb. [Self-censoring a crap-load of complaints]

Let out the complaints. They might make good discussion. At least they'll be entertaining to read.
FuzzyPanda wrote:I think architecture also has something to do with a school's culture. At my high school, we had a long, wide, color-coded hallway down the center of the school and more entrances/exits than anyone bothered to count (or lock). The purpose of this hall was to encourage a blending of all the social castes, but actually had the opposite effect. The deaf kids all hung out in the yellow section, the hipster/indie kids (they didn't really make a distinction) hung out in green, the northface girls hung out at the purple tree, etc. This created an intensely divided culture at our school in which people rarely left their own groups.

Strangely, this also led to a lack of any real hierarchy at our school - everyone was generally on the same level (except the kids who lacked social etiquette AND basic intelligence).

In contrast, my junior high school was ring shaped and had two usable entrances. All the eighth graders were concentrated in a single hallway on a single floor for most of their day and so it was impossible for us to get away from each other by physical distance. We simply created the social divisions to prevent ourselves from mixing.

This is not to say that all the other factors are unimportant, just that planners should be very careful about how they set up schools.

My high school was T-shaped, roughly, with a ¼ mile hallway and an 800 foot hallway. People generally had to walk to far to socialize between classes, but the band, orchestra, and choir folks had their own hall, as did the theatre kids. At the junction of the Spanish corridor and the main hall, there was the library, which is where many (but not all) Black people gathered and blocked the hallways. Nothing against them, but that certainly did not help to dispel hidden prejudices and whatnot.
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Re: Paul Graham on Nerds, Popularity, and thus School

Postby Sosekopp » Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:35 pm UTC

I've never had very many friends or been very popular, but at all the schools I've gone to I've always been respected for my intelligence (except for a brief period in 8th grade, when I was bullied because some people thought I was gay).


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