My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From Goodreads: When school lunchroom doors open, hungry students rush in, searching for tables where they wouldn't be outsiders. Of course, in middle school and high school, almost everyone is an outsider: the nerds, the new girls, the band geeks, the loners; even the "popular" cheerleaders. Alexandra Robbins' The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth takes us inside the hallways of real schools to show us how shifting cliques and permanent marginalization affect children. Following individual students over the course of year, she tracks the plight and possibilities of self-confessed nerds, freaks, punks, Goths, and weirdos. Her central message is heartening: Our increasingly homogenized society ultimately needs and welcomes the cafeteria fringe.
My take: The book begins by introducing the reader to Danielle, a shy junior who feels uncomfortable during lunch. She has nobody to sit with. There is also a history of bullying in Danielle's past. The author then introduces the reader to a total of 7 "cafeteria fringe" and follow them throughout the year. These are the quirky people who are artistic, emotional, gay, shy, or geeky. Gathering data from sociological studies, the author ascertains that the skills used for popularity in high school are not the skills used in work and life. The quirky are the Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Adam Sandler, etc.
The most intriguing cafeteria fringe was Regan. I did not expect the surprise factor there yet when it was revealed and then discussed at greater length, I found myself definitely relating. (view spoiler)
The crux of the book is the Quirk Theory. Behaviors that are aggressive and dominating in high school will often net a more popular person. This is not to be confused with "liked." However, the same skill set is not useful outside of the high school setting. Conformity and sheep like behavior is uniquely acceptable in a factory model school. Creativity, new ideas and approaches to problems will be rewarded in a workplace setting. Those who skirt the cafeteria very well may have the advantage after high school.
The author provided anecdotal stories about the 7 individuals throughout the year and surrounded them with research by social psychologists from years past then offered interpretations to frame her thesis. She also suggested a different challenge for each of the 7 individuals that supported their individuality and strengths but also connected them with others with similarities. Six out of seven found moderate success. The exception was Regan. The cliques were too strong and the social group too small.
Very enjoyable read for anybody interested in high school social dynamics or anybody scarred by their past high school social dynamics. Also would be an excellent resource for any public educator. I would go so far as to suggest that this book would be excellent reading material for professional development - especially if material is read by all faculty members and discussed throughout the school year.