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If you ever suffered in high school, this is a MUST READ!

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If you ever suffered in high school, this is a MUST READ!

Postby Winston » Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:09 pm

Hi folks,
For anyone who's ever suffered in high school or been persecuted, this article makes sense of it all. It's a MUST READ! This is the BEST article I've ever seen about why nerds and smart teens are persecuted in high school and why the whole high school system is insane, dysfunctional, unnatural and prison-like. Many mysteries about the high school system, which we were taught never to question, are explained, from the reason high school exists to how it evolved in the industrial era. And the social hierarchy in high school and why it is savage, divisive and self-destructive is explained very well too.

It is very insightful, accurate, true, no-nonsense and logical. Every sentence makes perfect sense and is well-written, easy to read and follow. In short, it makes perfect sense out of a seemingly insane system that we were forced to endure.

If you only read one article about the high school social and psychological system, this one would be enough. I wish all public school teachers and parents would read it, as it would enlighten their paradigm as to what's really going on in the system.

The author, Paul Graham, is highly intelligent and a multi-millionaire I heard, after he sold the world's largest webstore to Yahoo for $45 million. Obviously, he was a persecuted nerd in high school too, that's why he was able to look deeper and understand the whole system from the outside. After all, it is those suffering under a system who try to look deeper into it to find out what's wrong with it, not those who are enjoying it or reaping benefits from it.

Here is the link to it and some of my favorite excerpts from it:

http://paulgraham.com/nerds.html

(Here he explains why nerds are persecuted)

"Around the age of eleven, though, kids seem to start treating their family as a day job. They create a new world among themselves, and standing in this world is what matters, not standing in their family. Indeed, being in trouble in their family can win them points in the world they care about.

The problem is, the world these kids create for themselves is at first a very crude one. If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies. Like a lot of American kids, I read this book in school. Presumably it was not a coincidence. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world. This was too subtle for me. While the book seemed entirely believable, I didn't get the additional message. I wish they had just told us outright that we were savages and our world was stupid.

Nerds would find their unpopularity more bearable if it merely caused them to be ignored. Unfortunately, to be unpopular in school is to be actively persecuted.

Why? Once again, anyone currently in school might think this a strange question to ask. How could things be any other way? But they could be. Adults don't normally persecute nerds. Why do teenage kids do it?

Partly because teenagers are still half children, and many children are just intrinsically cruel. Some torture nerds for the same reason they pull the legs off spiders. Before you develop a conscience, torture is amusing.

Another reason kids persecute nerds is to make themselves feel better. When you tread water, you lift yourself up by pushing water down. Likewise, in any social hierarchy, people unsure of their own position will try to emphasize it by maltreating those they think rank below. I've read that this is why poor whites in the United States are the group most hostile to blacks.

But I think the main reason other kids persecute nerds is that it's part of the mechanism of popularity. Popularity is only partially about individual attractiveness. It's much more about alliances. To become more popular, you need to be constantly doing things that bring you close to other popular people, and nothing brings people closer than a common enemy.

Like a politician who wants to distract voters from bad times at home, you can create an enemy if there isn't a real one. By singling out and persecuting a nerd, a group of kids from higher in the hierarchy create bonds between themselves. Attacking an outsider makes them all insiders. This is why the worst cases of bullying happen with groups. Ask any nerd: you get much worse treatment from a group of kids than from any individual bully, however sadistic.

If it's any consolation to the nerds, it's nothing personal. The group of kids who band together to pick on you are doing the same thing, and for the same reason, as a bunch of guys who get together to go hunting. They don't actually hate you. They just need something to chase.

Because they're at the bottom of the scale, nerds are a safe target for the entire school. If I remember correctly, the most popular kids don't persecute nerds; they don't need to stoop to such things. Most of the persecution comes from kids lower down, the nervous middle classes.

The trouble is, there are a lot of them. The distribution of popularity is not a pyramid, but tapers at the bottom like a pear. The least popular group is quite small. (I believe we were the only D table in our cafeteria map.) So there are more people who want to pick on nerds than there are nerds.
....................................

(Public school teachers and prison wardens)

It's important to realize that, no, the adults don't know what the kids are doing to one another. They know, in the abstract, that kids are monstrously cruel to one another, just as we know in the abstract that people get tortured in poorer countries. But, like us, they don't like to dwell on this depressing fact, and they don't see evidence of specific abuses unless they go looking for it.

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.

In outline, it was the same at the schools I went to. The most important thing was to stay on the premises. While there, the authorities fed you, prevented overt violence, and made some effort to teach you something. But beyond that they didn't want to have too much to do with the kids. Like prison wardens, the teachers mostly left us to ourselves. And, like prisoners, the culture we created was barbaric.
.................................

(Why nerds are like adults)

As a thirteen-year-old kid, I didn't have much more experience of the world than what I saw immediately around me. The warped little world we lived in was, I thought, the world. The world seemed cruel and boring, and I'm not sure which was worse.

Because I didn't fit into this world, I thought that something must be wrong with me. I didn't realize that the reason we nerds didn't fit in was that in some ways we were a step ahead. We were already thinking about the kind of things that matter in the real world, instead of spending all our time playing an exacting but mostly pointless game like the others.

We were a bit like an adult would be if he were thrust back into middle school. He wouldn't know the right clothes to wear, the right music to like, the right slang to use. He'd seem to the kids a complete alien. The thing is, he'd know enough not to care what they thought. We had no such confidence.
.....................................

(I love this part where he explains how high school is in reality a prison that the kids aren't told about)

I didn't really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a Twinkie. Not just school, but the entire town. Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.

Where I grew up, it felt as if there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. This was no accident. Suburbs are deliberately designed to exclude the outside world, because it contains things that could endanger children.

And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.

What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren't told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they're called misfits.
.................................

(Here he describes misplaced blame on puberty)

Adults can't avoid seeing that teenage kids are tormented. So why don't they do something about it? Because they blame it on puberty. The reason kids are so unhappy, adults tell themselves, is that monstrous new chemicals, hormones, are now coursing through their bloodstream and messing up everything. There's nothing wrong with the system; it's just inevitable that kids will be miserable at that age.

This idea is so pervasive that even the kids believe it, which probably doesn't help. Someone who thinks his feet naturally hurt is not going to stop to consider the possibility that he is wearing the wrong size shoes.

I'm suspicious of this theory that thirteen-year-old kids are intrinsically messed up. If it's physiological, it should be universal. Are Mongol nomads all nihilists at thirteen? I've read a lot of history, and I have not seen a single reference to this supposedly universal fact before the twentieth century. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance seem to have been cheerful and eager. They got in fights and played tricks on one another of course (Michelangelo had his nose broken by a bully), but they weren't crazy.

As far as I can tell, the concept of the hormone-crazed teenager is coeval with suburbia. I don't think this is a coincidence. I think teenagers are driven crazy by the life they're made to lead. Teenage apprentices in the Renaissance were working dogs. Teenagers now are neurotic lapdogs. Their craziness is the craziness of the idle everywhere.
....................................

(Here he compares teenagers in the past vs. today)

Teenage kids used to have a more active role in society. In pre-industrial times, they were all apprentices of one sort or another, whether in shops or on farms or even on warships. They weren't left to create their own societies. They were junior members of adult societies.

Teenagers seem to have respected adults more then, because the adults were the visible experts in the skills they were trying to learn. Now most kids have little idea what their parents do in their distant offices, and see no connection (indeed, there is precious little) between schoolwork and the work they'll do as adults.

And if teenagers respected adults more, adults also had more use for teenagers. After a couple years' training, an apprentice could be a real help. Even the newest apprentice could be made to carry messages or sweep the workshop.

Now adults have no immediate use for teenagers. They would be in the way in an office. So they drop them off at school on their way to work, much as they might drop the dog off at a kennel if they were going away for the weekend.
..................................

(Why high school exists)

Teenagers now are useless, except as cheap labor in industries like fast food, which evolved to exploit precisely this fact. In almost any other kind of work, they'd be a net loss. But they're also too young to be left unsupervised. Someone has to watch over them, and the most efficient way to do this is to collect them together in one place. Then a few adults can watch all of them.

If you stop there, what you're describing is literally a prison, albeit a part-time one. The problem is, many schools practically do stop there. The stated purpose of schools is to educate the kids. But there is no external pressure to do this well. And so most schools do such a bad job of teaching that the kids don't really take it seriously-- not even the smart kids. Much of the time we were all, students and teachers both, just going through the motions.
....................................

(Here he explains why the social hierarchy and rankings in high school are insane, divisive and self-destructive)

In almost any group of people you'll find hierarchy. When groups of adults form in the real world, it's generally for some common purpose, and the leaders end up being those who are best at it. The problem with most schools is, they have no purpose. But hierarchy there must be. And so the kids make one out of nothing.

We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that's exactly what happens in most American schools. Instead of depending on some real test, one's rank depends mostly on one's ability to increase one's rank. It's like the court of Louis XIV. There is no external opponent, so the kids become one another's opponents.

When there is some real external test of skill, it isn't painful to be at the bottom of the hierarchy. A rookie on a football team doesn't resent the skill of the veteran; he hopes to be like him one day and is happy to have the chance to learn from him. The veteran may in turn feel a sense of noblesse oblige. And most importantly, their status depends on how well they do against opponents, not on whether they can push the other down.

Court hierarchies are another thing entirely. This type of society debases anyone who enters it. There is neither admiration at the bottom, nor noblesse oblige at the top. It's kill or be killed.

This is the sort of society that gets created in American secondary schools. And it happens because these schools have no real purpose beyond keeping the kids all in one place for a certain number of hours each day. What I didn't realize at the time, and in fact didn't realize till very recently, is that the twin horrors of school life, the cruelty and the boredom, both have the same cause.
....................................

Nerds aren't the only losers in the popularity rat race. Nerds are unpopular because they're distracted. There are other kids who deliberately opt out because they're so disgusted with the whole process.

Teenage kids, even rebels, don't like to be alone, so when kids opt out of the system, they tend to do it as a group. At the schools I went to, the focus of rebellion was drug use, specifically marijuana. The kids in this tribe wore black concert t-shirts and were called "freaks."

Freaks and nerds were allies, and there was a good deal of overlap between them. Freaks were on the whole smarter than other kids, though never studying (or at least never appearing to) was an important tribal value. I was more in the nerd camp, but I was friends with a lot of freaks.

They used drugs, at least at first, for the social bonds they created. It was something to do together, and because the drugs were illegal, it was a shared badge of rebellion.

I'm not claiming that bad schools are the whole reason kids get into trouble with drugs. After a while, drugs have their own momentum. No doubt some of the freaks ultimately used drugs to escape from other problems-- trouble at home, for example. But, in my school at least, the reason most kids started using drugs was rebellion. Fourteen-year-olds didn't start smoking pot because they'd heard it would help them forget their problems. They started because they wanted to join a different tribe.

Misrule breeds rebellion; this is not a new idea. And yet the authorities still for the most part act as if drugs were themselves the cause of the problem.

(Here he gives some last words of consoling advice and hope)

The real problem is the emptiness of school life. We won't see solutions till adults realize that. The adults who may realize it first are the ones who were themselves nerds in school. Do you want your kids to be as unhappy in eighth grade as you were? I wouldn't. Well, then, is there anything we can do to fix things? Almost certainly. There is nothing inevitable about the current system. It has come about mostly by default.

Adults, though, are busy. Showing up for school plays is one thing. Taking on the educational bureaucracy is another. Perhaps a few will have the energy to try to change things. I suspect the hardest part is realizing that you can.

Nerds still in school should not hold their breath. Maybe one day a heavily armed force of adults will show up in helicopters to rescue you, but they probably won't be coming this month. Any immediate improvement in nerds' lives is probably going to have to come from the nerds themselves.

Merely understanding the situation they're in should make it less painful. Nerds aren't losers. They're just playing a different game, and a game much closer to the one played in the real world. Adults know this. It's hard to find successful adults now who don't claim to have been nerds in high school.

It's important for nerds to realize, too, that school is not life. School is a strange, artificial thing, half sterile and half feral. It's all-encompassing, like life, but it isn't the real thing. It's only temporary, and if you look, you can see beyond it even while you're still in it.

If life seems awful to kids, it's neither because hormones are turning you all into monsters (as your parents believe), nor because life actually is awful (as you believe). It's because the adults, who no longer have any economic use for you, have abandoned you to spend years cooped up together with nothing real to do. Any society of that type is awful to live in. You don't have to look any further to explain why teenage kids are unhappy.

I've said some harsh things in this essay, but really the thesis is an optimistic one-- that several problems we take for granted are in fact not insoluble after all. Teenage kids are not inherently unhappy monsters. That should be encouraging news to kids and adults both.
Check out the latest posts in our blog The Happier Abroaders.

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Postby gmm567 » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:40 pm

yeah, but it's the lower intelligence, generally, who boost their egos by bullying. The tards need to be TAUGHT to respect their betters. And that isn't being done.

In Germany, you don't even go to school with them. They go to their own separate school where they got taught a trade;they don't have their self-esteem assaulted by other kids who are more intelligent and superior to them.

It's a much better system for the lower intelligent people and for the higher intelligent people. Both are happier.
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Postby EvilBaga » Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:36 pm

We have a phrase to describe what happens when rankings have to be created without any meaningful criteria. We say that the situation degenerates into a popularity contest. And that's exactly what happens in most American schools. Instead of depending on some real test, one's rank depends mostly on one's ability to increase one's rank. It's like the court of Louis XIV. There is no external opponent, so the kids become one another's opponents.


Just FYI. The reference to Louis XIV I think was when that french leader got fed up with nobles trying to rebel. So to prevent further rebellion, he granted them generous land and rights, on the condition they give up arms and take up residence at Versailles. In essense, nobles had nothing to do after that. Except involve themselves in soap opera style intrigues at the royal court. Another favourite writer of mine, F Roger Devlin - makes references to it in an article about schooling called The Academy: Reform or Secession
http://theoccidentalquarterly.com/archi ... index.html


It's important for nerds to realize, too, that school is not life. School is a strange, artificial thing, half sterile and half feral. It's all-encompassing, like life, but it isn't the real thing. It's only temporary, and if you look, you can see beyond it even while you're still in it.


While I love the article, I take issue with the above. In the 1970s, to join the middle class, most adults thought you only need a high school education. Before World War II only 30% or so of people even had a High School Diploma. Now you have to go to college, which, while not as bad a School, still has many of the same elements in force.
School is a large (and growing!)part of life, at least in percentage of your time on earth. When you add to that the fact that it is a part of your life that has much higher importance per time-unit (lots of your defining moments are in it) one could argue its an even larger part of your life. Letting nerds know school is not life is good, but I think its just putting off the inevitable. Something will have to give sooner or later somewhere. The current system is unsustainable in too many ways and someone will have to pay for that.
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Postby momopi » Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:30 am

Boy this brings back memories.

Back in high school, I dressed in black leathers, had hair down to my shoulder, drove an used 82 cherry red Mustang GL hatchback (the cheap V6 one, not the V8 GT) that leaked oil, and had no sense of value in time and money.

I was pushing shopping carts at age 16 to make money, so I could afford a car. I bought the car so I could get to work. Huh?

School was pretty boring and you had to find your own excitment, which often means starting some sh*t. It wasn't until the computer labs got some new computers (IBM PS/2 model 25 w/VGA!) that I found interesting stuff to do. Later, a few of us were sent to the GATE program and allowed to take classes at local Jr. College, which was really cool because we got to hang out with college girls. ^_^

I think HS would've been more interesting, if they had more electives, and offered more classes with real work skills like cooking, accounting, etc. instead of just "auto shop".
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Postby Winston » Sun Mar 15, 2009 8:21 pm

Here's what a smart girl on my list had to say about this issue:

"Hi Winston,

Thanks so much for sending this article. I had been thinking about popularity in high school lately (especially because I'll be morbidly curious and click on the facbook profile of someone who was popular in highschool and find out they are STILL surfing around with the same local crowd, which just depresses me and brings back horrid feelings) and it definitely cleared the air to read this article.

I agree with it 100%. In high school I couldn't talk to certain people because I was probably ranked in the "D" group and its had repercussions beyond those 4 years. In college I still carried around the idea that I was probably different or people wouldn't like me and I've never recovered from this experience. College was a slight improvement because I went to one that you sort of have to be a nerd/intellectual to get into, but I do have to point out-- NERDS CREATE THEIR OWN HIERARCHIES AS WELL. I remember encountering people who told me that they woudln't be friends with someone unless he/she knew that the person would be successful later in life for networking purposes. This strikes me as shallow on so many levels-- first of all, how on earth would you gauge how successful someone will be later in life based on their performance at 21? Second of all, why would you be friends with someone for such a shallow reason? Winston-- you have lived in the Bay Area so you probably know what I'm talking about. Although Silicon Valley is filled with computer geeks and nerds, do not be deceived-- they are snobby for a DIFFERENT REASON and unless you are as nerdy as they are, can talk about Unix flavors, and promote your own knowledge or intelligence, you are outcast from this nerd culture as well. If I had to take the lesser of two evils though, I guess I'd choose this current hierarchy over the old one-- where popularity was based entirely on how you dressed, looked, or who your friends were. But I do not necessarily think this is desirable either.

What strikes me as interesting is that there seems to be a hierarchy wherever you go in the U.S. I've lived in Los Angeles-- an overblown highschool where the pressure was on how attractive you were. The Hollywood culture was insidious and adults would still buy into the whole "cool factor," acting younger and getting plastic surgery to preserve their status. In the Bay Area, the hierarchy is based on how successful or intelligent you are in the tech area. In New York, the hierarchy is based on how rich you are, what family you come from, what society you "mingle with." In all the places I've lived in there's been some kind of elitist culture, but if I had to take the culture I can probably withstand the most, its probably the Silicon Valley one although it definitely leaves much to be desired. This is why I love going abroad-- unless there's some kind of overt racism in the country, overall I find people tend to be pretty open and do not necessarily put you in boxes to be stomped upon. When I studied abroad in college I couldn't believe there was a whole different world out there that made me feel incorporated, made me feel accepted entirely for who I was for the first time in my life. "
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Postby gmm567 » Mon Mar 16, 2009 10:17 am

Yea there isn't acceptance. That's why you have to fit in...and be accepted.

And why aren't people more accepting? Because they feel the need to be better than other people.

I think it's part of a competitive society. Europe is socialistic and hence less competitive.
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Postby Winston » Tue Apr 21, 2009 12:02 pm

So how many of you were nerds here? And how many of you were popular?

And if you were persecuted as a nerd, what did you do about it? I never could figure out a logical way to resolve it, for it would require you to be something you're not, and use up a lot of your time trying to be popular and fake. Honestly, I found the whole thing intimidating.
Check out the latest posts in our blog The Happier Abroaders.

Don't forget my HA Grand Ebook and Dating Sites!

"It takes far less effort to find and move to the society that has what you want than it does to try to reconstruct an existing society to match your standards." - Harry Browne, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
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