Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I just finished the book Nerds by David Anderegg. It's worth the read. Anderegg discusses how deeply ingrained the idea of the "nerd" is in American culture and the effect that's had on our development as a nation. He traces the idea back to Washington Irving and Emerson and their juxtaposition of the American "man of action" with the effect, European thinker.

He does a great job trying to flesh out the complexities of these apparently opposite terms and discusses the various shades one may occupy on the "jock/nerd" spectrum. Nerds have been pathologized as potential Asperger's sufferers (like Bill Gates)and denigrated as keepers of useless and arcane knowledge on all matters technological and mathematical. Nerds are one of the last groups one can openly mock without fear of offending people (aside from the nerd, but that's okay).

Given our dismissal of these kids and our acceptance of the taunting they are subjected to in school and in popular culture, Anderegg is not shocked by the fact that we are in the midst of a declining interest in math and science.

The book doesn't really say anything new, but it's a well thought out cultural analysis. As an educator who teaches lots of "nerds" and is pretty much one myself (or am I a geek? I still don't know), this book spoke to me. I do feel, though, that we are in the midst of a nerd Renaissance. From the days of my own schooling to today, there's been a marked acceptance of nerd culture. From the band Weezer to Napoleon Dynamite to pretty much you-name-it, nerds have thrown off their chains of shame and stepped into the light. I like to think that Gen-X played a role in this transformation, but that's another story altogether...

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