Nerds

Nerds

Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them

Book - 2008
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A lively, thought-provoking book that zeros in on the timely issue of how anti-intellectualism is bad for our children and even worse for America. Why are our children so terrified to be called nerds? And what is the cost of this rising tide of anti-intellectualism to both our children and our nation? In Nerds, family psychotherapist and psychology professor David Anderegg examines why science and engineering have become socially poisonous disciplines, why adults wink at the derision of nerdy kids, and what we can do to prepare our children to succeed in an increasingly high-tech world. Nerds takes a measured look at how we think about and why we should rethink nerds, examining such topics as: - our anxiety about intense interest in things mechanical or technological; - the pathologizing of nerdy behavior with diagnoses such as Asperger syndrome; - the cycle of anti-nerd prejudice that took place after the Columbine incident; - why nerds are almost exclusively an American phenomenon; - the archetypal struggles of nerds and jocks in American popular culture and history; - the conformity of adolescents and why adolescent stereotypes linger into adulthood long after we should know better; and nerd cultural markers, particularly science fiction. Using education research, psychological theory, and interviews with nerdy and non-nerdy kids alike, Anderegg argues that we stand in dire need of turning around the big dumb ship of American society to prepare rising generations to compete in the global marketplace.
Publisher: New York, NY : J.P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008
ISBN: 9781585425907
Branch Call Number: 371.95 AND
Characteristics: 274 p. ; 22 cm

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mikemarotta
Mar 03, 2018

This book slays an array of little dragons that plague nerds. Dr. Anderegg obviously is an advocate. At the same time, though, he also seeks to deconstruct the concept of “nerd.” Make no mistake: it is a schoolyard insult. Whether it (and “geek”, etc.) can subsume other meanings is not clear. Anderegg covers a lot of ground. He does not buy into the theory of “Asperger’s Syndrome." So, the book is ambivalent, at once saluting nerds yet also denying that they exist.

Citing Richard Hofstadter, Anderegg ties the prejudice against nerds to the broad anti-intellectual streak in American culture perhaps born (if not conceived) in the Jackson-Adams presidential campaign of 1824, Emerson's "American Scholar" address and Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Coming into the present, the boy mechanic who works on cars is not a nerd; the one who builds computers is. The American male is man of action, not a man of thought.

That reveals the autobiographical theme of this book, if the congruence between the cover and the picture of the author do not suggest this.

Anderegg’s work is about boys. The Boy Scouts have four citations in the Index; the Cubs Scouts even get one. The Girls Scouts are mentioned once in passing (along with Boy Scouts); the Brownies do not appear.

Anderegg does offer hope for change in the broader culture. He cites the television shows NUMB3RS and The Beauty and the Geek. (Launched in 2007, The Big Bang Theory could not appear here.) He also holds Harry Potter up as a paradigm. Potter looks the part, of course; but Potter is an athlete. His prowess at Quidditch is commanding. (Anderegg ignores Potter’s contests against Voldemort and the forces of darkness.)

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scribby
May 18, 2017

The “nerd” label is a badge of honor for an adult, but for a kid it’s another matter. As a former nerd kid myself (who was picked on for being supposedly both “smart” and “stupid” – at the same time!), I was interested in finding out what a psychologist would say on the matter. I was in for quite a surprise. The middle-school “nerd/geek” stereotype (the unattractive but intelligent person who programs computers, wears pocket protectors and plays fantasy role-playing games) is apparently a uniquely American phenomenon. The author makes the case quite forcefully that it is the reason behind much of the failure of American students in math and science, as well as simply being a hurtful stereotype (as are all stereotypes). Not wanting to be labelled as a nerd and thus picked on by other students, so the argument goes, many students who enjoy either of said topics in school will nevertheless decline to study them until adulthood.

(From my own history: in middle school I more or less withdrew from math, not because I found it “nerdy” but because I found it difficult. Science, however, was another matter: to me, memorizing arcana such as the names of each planet’s moons or the classifications of animal phyla was the “coolest” thing imaginable, and I couldn’t wait to dazzle the other kids in my school with such newfound knowledge. They weren't dazzled. It had never occurred to me that everyone has different interests from everyone else, though of course I figured it out by high school.)

The author traces the origin of the “nerd” myth from its origins (Ichabod Crane was likely the first American nerd, though he was originally meant as a satire on European attitudes about learning) to its contemporary manifestations such as the sudden overabundance of kids with Asperger’s Syndrome , the Bush/Gore debates, the “Beauty and the Geek” TV show, and the unspoken ban on Asian-American pop stars (yes, the author makes a case for that weird – and shameful, if you think about it – statistic being a part of the same phenomenon.) As seen by those last two examples, the stereotype is not only erroneous and cruel to children, but can be genuinely hurtful to adults as well. The author then makes several suggestions on how to eradicate it.

The book is written with a little irreverence, lots of humor, and some interesting presentations. I’ve written this, my longest review for a library, to recommend it. Oh, and yes, I did read “The Silmarillion” in tenth grade, and I did enjoy it.

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