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NOT ALL NERDS ARE EQUAL

Assignment No. 1 by

Senthil Sukumar
Group No. G17 Academic Writing CORE 006, T2 AY 09-10

I declare that this Assignment is my original work and all information obtained from other sources has been cited accordingly. _______________________ Signature and Date Course Instructor: Elizabeth Rankin

1 In his essay “Celebrating Nerdiness”, Tom Rogers, a teacher at South Carolina High School, attempts to convince readers of the virtues of the nerd archetype. Although Rogers writes an entertaining piece about accepting difference, his attempts to make nerds seem special (or even superior) ultimately fail because he relies solely upon anecdotal evidence. In his opening, Rogers’s attempt to dispel the misconceptions associated with nerds makes it seem that his intended target audience are members of the general public; those who still cling to the “... narrow-minded and thoughtless stereotypes” associated with nerds. Here, he mounts his first and only defense against one of the misconceptions associated with nerds, namely sycophantism. He asserts that what is perceived as objective bootlicking is actually in contradiction with the social ineptness inherent in nerds. However, Rogers seems to be taking the easy way out by simply explaining away the misconception that nerds are “suck-ups” with the concept of non-conformism, and neglects the fact that there are other denominations of teenage stereotypes that would be labeled as non-conformist and yet are the furthest thing from being nerdy or sycophantic. Rogers’s argument here lacks substance, and would have been strengthened if he had given more contextual reasons as to why nerds exhibit their particular brand of anti-social behavior. Subsequently, Rogers’s arguments for the acceptance and celebration of the differences that nerds bring to the teenage palette transform into an anecdotal discourse of positive reinforcement aimed squarely at nerds. Rogers himself admits that he became a high school teacher so that he could personally tell young nerds that being a nerd was “something wonderful.” He uses examples of famous intellectuals such as Tesla and Einstein to justify the wonderfulness of nerds by equating “17-year-old versions of these men” with contemporary high school nerds. Here, Rogers presents a skewed and fallacious argument in an attempt to equate nerds with genius and

2 vice versa. By using words such as “idealistic” and “eccentric” to describe these famous individuals, and asserting that these intellectual heavyweights would fall neatly into the modern definition of the nerd stereotype, he cleverly attempts to associate these characteristics with nerds. Rogers has clearly confused the qualities of nerds with intellectual capability, and seems to believe that both are one and the same. The use of the word “arrogant” to describe Newton is particularly interesting, as Rogers seems to be implying that it is acceptable for nerds to be arrogant because in their case, it accompanies genius. When put into the context of Rogers’s enumeration of nerd-like qualities, this example is particularly jarring and should have been left out, as it in no way convinces readers to sympathize with nerds. In addition, Rogers has completely ignored many of today’s youths who do not fit the classic image of nerds or do not share the defining attribute of genius. There are many youths who are intelligent yet move comfortably within social circles, and conversely, there are youths who may couple average or below average academic performance with social ineptness. Rogers essentially attempts to positively reinforce the stereotype of nerds by equating them with attributes of personality and more explicitly, genius. This tactic is reminiscent of the perceived stereotype that all blondes are dumb, when in actual fact blonde hair is in no way an indicator of intelligence. Apart from superficially equating genius with nerds, Rogers displays an inconsistent and contradictory stance on the merits of exhibiting nerd-like qualities. On his sons, Rogers says that they were raised as nerds partly because he did not possess the “cleverness” to raise “cool” kids. Rogers’s placement of the word “cleverness” after his previous assertions that all nerds are geniuses seems to imply a twinge of regret at his inability to be a “cool” parent himself. Rogers seems to be questioning his decision to raise his sons as nerds, and even goes so far as to say that he did so because he was indulgent on his part and “... wanted nerds to talk to.” He compensates

3 for this minor change in sentiment almost immediately by using an example of his student who described his family of nerds as “awesome”, almost in a bid to reassure himself of the merits of his particular parenting approach. Continuing the trend of contradiction within the essay, Rogers often uses the word “sissy” to describe another quality commonly associated with nerds. But in paragraph nine, he proceeds to say that today, even though both his sons “remain devoted nerds”, no one would mistake his older son for a sissy. The contradiction here is what Rogers asserts in his opening paragraph as another typical defining attribute of nerd behavior: being a “sissy”, and its reduced significance in defining the nerd stereotype. Is Rogers saying his son is no longer a sissy, but remains a “devoted" nerd because his conversational fluency “in four foreign languages” qualifies him as a genius? His use of the phrase “childhood trials” is another indicator of how Rogers subtly attempts to equate only genius with nerds. By saying that his older son went through the trials of “nerd hell” as an “unathletic kid” and emerged as a daring individual who voluntarily took a dip in near-freezing water and has “hitchhiked around Europe three times”, Rogers implies that the overriding quality of a nerd is genius, with all other associated qualities being secondary or even unnecessary, to be outgrown as one matures with age. As a result, Rogers’s original intention of celebrating nerds as unique individuals seems to shift gears to simply a call for celebrating the genius of nerds. Apart from his contradictory statements, an interesting aspect of Rogers’s essay is how at times it seems to be echoing his own sentiments and childhood experiences, although he mainly presents the experiences of his sons for the bulk of the essay. He often seems to be keeping a personal scoreboard of his son’s nerdy triumphs, such as when his younger son wrote his “notes backward” as an act of muted rebellion against his social-studies teacher, or when he “proved his

4 teacher wrong” by graduating from high school. Rogers seems to be trying to prove the point that nerds are highly intellectual yet very often repressed by those around them. Indeed, very early on, Rogers’s admission that he survived in high school by “learning to keep quiet” could have fostered a repressed urge to be the centre of attention, a luxury that escaped his own childhood. It thus makes sense that Rogers overwhelmingly associates genius with nerds in his essay, as his inability to express his own intellectual prowess in high school may have left him with a want of recognition. The evidence for this desire to be in the spotlight can be found in the “flip-flop” of Rogers’s stomach during his son’s “one moment of visibility.” From this statement, it can be inferred that Rogers’s shared experience of his son’s speech went beyond his capacity as an audience member to that of an active, on-stage participant, at least psychologically. In essence, Rogers vicariously lived out his own moment of visibility through his son. In all, Rogers’s essay would have been less aggrandizing if he had reduced his emphasis on genius as the hallmark of the nerd stereotype, and used more relatable examples of nerds. In doing so, he would have avoided alienating youths who struggle with social ineptitude and have been relegated to the fringes of teenage social groups, yet do not possess the common anchor that Rogers asserts is genius to define themselves as nerds. Despite the essay’s shifting intentions and contradictory arguments, when viewed as a feelgood piece on the triumph of holding out against the pressure to conform to accepted standards of behavior, Rogers’s essay suffices as a motivational remedy to reassure and encourage intellectually capable nerds like him to stay true to their personas. Ultimately, however, Rogers is plainly a proud, albeit biased father and nerd whose anecdotal evidence and superficial interpretations of the nerd stereotype fail to give any tangible reasons as to why the differences of nerds should be celebrated more so than the differences found in any other teenage stereotype.