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February When we were in junior high school, my friend Rich and I made a map of the school lunch tables according to popularity.
This was easy to do, because kids only ate lunch with others of about the same popularity. We graded them from A to E.
A tables were full of football players and cheerleaders and so on. E tables contained the kids with mild cases of Down's Syndrome, what in the language of the time we called "retards. We were not being especially candid to grade ourselves as D.
It would have taken a deliberate lie to say otherwise. Everyone in the school knew exactly how popular everyone else was, including us. My stock gradually rose during high school. Puberty finally arrived; I became a decent soccer player; I started a scandalous underground newspaper.
So I've seen a good part of the popularity landscape. I know a lot of people who were nerds in school, and they all tell the same story: Being smart seems to make you unpopular. To someone in school now, that may seem an odd question to ask.
The mere fact is so overwhelming that it may seem strange to imagine that it could be any other way. Being smart doesn't make you an outcast in elementary school.
Nor does it harm you in the real world. Nor, as far as I can tell, is the problem so bad in most other countries. But in a typical American secondary school, being smart is likely to make your life difficult.
The key to this mystery is to rephrase the question slightly. Why don't smart kids make themselves popular? If they're so smart, why don't they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests? One argument says that this would be impossible, that the smart kids are unpopular because the other kids envy them for being smart, and nothing they could do could make them popular.
If the other kids in junior high school envied me, they did a great job of concealing it. And in any case, if being smart were really an enviable quality, the girls would have broken ranks.* Le Wand Petite.
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