Wednesday, June 4, 2008
I keep hearing about teenagers who don’t know things they should -- like how to write, or geographical facts about their country and the world, or who certain national leaders are. There’s a lot of hand-wringing about why this happens. From my own experience, I can tell you one factor -- the growth of cool.
Kids don’t want to appear smart because it’s not cool. There’s a social deadliness attached to any form of studious behavior, even as light as casual reading. In fact, even sincerity or thoughtfulness is regarded skeptically by many teens, especially boys, who seem pressured into a kind of smart-alecky disengagement.
Now, some of this just comes with being a teenager. But I really think we need to turn around this contempt for learning.
From my own years in school, back in the Pleistocene Era, I remember the ridicule that would rain down from peers who perceived me, rightly or wrongly, as smart. I did continue to read, and I continued my nerdy habits like stamp collecting, thanks to a couple of good friends who were prone to similar hobbies. But I really do believe that one of the reasons I didn’t study harder in school is that it wasn’t cool, and was socially condemned.
The National Honor Society chapter at my high school was virtually all girls. I remember my mom looking at the photo in the yearbook and saying, “Where are the boys?”
Answer: Trying to be cool.
And I think it's only grown worse since then, with our media culture saturating kids with images of what's cool and what's not.
Why do kids think learning is a bad thing? Why are we socialized to hide our innate intelligence, to strive for a lower denominator? Is there a way to change that?
(Photo: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, May 2008)