Geek Profiling in High School


The passionate response to yesterday’s post on “The Myth of the Killer Introvert” reminded me of an important series on “Geek Profiling” that the website, Slashdot, ran in the wake of the first horrible school killing in Littleton, Colorado.  Here is a highlight from the series.

“In the days after the Littleton, Colorado massacre, the country went on a panicked hunt for the oddballs in High School, a profoundly ignorant and unthinking response to a tragedy that left geeks, nerds, non-conformists and the alienated in an even worse situation than before. Schools all over the country embarked on witch-hunts that amounted to little more than Geek Profiling. All weekend, after Friday’s column here, these voiceless kids — invisible in media and on TV talk shows and powerless in their own schools — have been e-mailing me with stories of what has happened to them in the past few days. Here are some of those stories in their own words, with gratitude and admiration for their courage in sending them. The big story out of Littleton isn’t about violence on the Internet, or whether or not video games are turning out kids into killers. It’s about the fact that for some of the best, brightest and most interesting kids, high school is a nightmare of exclusion, cruelty, warped values and anger.”

And here is one of the stories the kids mailed in.

“It was horrible, definitely. I’m a Quake freak, I play it day and night. I’m really into it. I play Doom a lot too, though not so much anymore. I’m up till 3 a.m. every night. I really love it. But after Colorado, things got horrible. People were actually talking to me like I could come in and kill them. It wasn’t like they were really afraid of me - they just seemed to think it was okay to hate me even more? People asked me if I had guns at home. This is a whole new level of exclusion, another excuse … to put down and isolate people like me.”

To read hundreds more of these stories, please go here. Some of them are painful, some are brave, some are provocative. But all of them will make you question whether something’s gone wrong with our social values.

These stories were written back in 1999.  How do you think high school life today compares to back then? Have things gotten better, especially for digitally savvy kids, now that tech is considered cool?



  1. Anette on 10.03.2011 at 14:58 (Reply)

    I think High School will always be High School the way we grew up with it.
    I am ten years out of high school now and Iwas attending school during the age of Columbine. I vividly remember going to school the day after it happened and everyone being just shaken by it.
    It made my class and school mates re-evaluate who we are and how we can prevent these tragedies from occurring, but that didn’t last long.
    Jock hall still stayed jock hall and the “nerds” stayed in the cafteria playing magic.
    I think there will always be a great divide and cliques, jocks vs. nerds, because high school is a buble and most students at that age cannot see beyond that buble and have to validate themselves by trying to fit in and become uniform with everyone else.
    I believe that most introverts, myself included, can look beyond the hish school years and see what hish school really is- a small time of our lives that does not define us for who we are.
    There has been a general acceptance of “geeks”, but I think that mainly comes after high school, when our minds develop beyond that buble and starts to question who we really are and what we want to do with the rest of our lives.

  2. Valerie on 10.03.2011 at 20:00 (Reply)

    Wow. I was teaching in a high school at that time and we were suspicious of everyone. We banned coats, jackets and backpacks from the classrooms. For a long time we seemed to just go through the motions and remained at a heightened vigilance that we maintained until we were too tired to be so tense-fully watchful. We never thought any high school student could do anything like that, but after Columbine, any of them could.

  3. Grace on 11.03.2011 at 03:01 (Reply)

    Cliques and the persecution of outsiders also existed in the mid-late 1960s when I was in junior and senior high school. It was a “Lord of the Flies” environmen, and the teachers often curried favor with the popular kids by bullying the geeks, hippies (and believe me-hippies were NOT popular in my high school), loners, and the poor kids who smelled funny. There will always be cliques because of the pressure cooker nature of high school. When you have hundreds of adolescents in a limited space, all experiencing major body and hormonal changes, and a factory-learning environment, how could things be different?

  4. Catherine on 11.03.2011 at 09:33 (Reply)

    I don’t know. I think the school environment can make a really big difference. I was also in high school when the shootings occured and my experience was very different. Granted, I went to an incredibly diverse high school (for example, we had a “hall of nations” with 80+ flags representing students’ birth countries). We were diverse in terms of race, language, creed and socio-economic levels.

    Until I got to college, I assumed that the clique-y nature of high school was something made up in Hollywood, because my high school was anything but clique-y. There was some segregation (most obvious at lunch and in some sports), but it never seemed clique-y to me. There was lots of cross-over and dialogue. Of course, I can remember a few people who got picked on, but I don’t think it was because they were loners.

    I taught high school for a few years in a very different kind of school: a pretty homogenous, middle class white school. And though cliques were much more prevalent there, I don’t think the introverted kids were picked on. If I had to choose a trait that was most likely to be bullied, it would be extroverting something “weird” or “negative” (as seen by the other students), like a boy being stereotypically effeminate. I had one female student who was extremely high on the introversion scale. The only way I could ever learn about her was in writing assignments (thank goodness I was an English teacher! I don’t know how others managed!); she wouldn’t speak at all in class, or even one-on-one with me. I was so impressed, though, that many of the students (girls mostly), went out of the way to include her and be welcoming (she’d previously been home schooled). And I never once-even from the most obnoxious bullies-heard a mean thing said about her.

    Just wanted to throw out another perspective since my experiences seem to have been so different from everyone else’s.

  5. anon on 26.04.2011 at 00:07 (Reply)

    An easy solution to at least slightly lessen the bullying problem is to STOP BLOODY CALLING PEOPLE GEEKS AND NERDS. THEY ARE NOT INNOCENT LABELS; THEY ARE INSULTS.

    I had plenty of people call me names in school, and they never messed around with “nerd” and “geek;” those would have been going waaaay too “easy” on me. I can go to any random mall and get names shouted at me. There is no way in hell that I’m going to perpetuate that in my own mind. If people label themselves that, there’s no refuge from it, ANYWHERE.

    Sheesh, and they wonder why most bullied people have low self-esteem. People can blab all the nonsense they want about responding to bullying and not “ignoring it” being “letting the bullies win” (which is total bullcrap) or saying that leaving the situation is “running away” (also bullcrap), but when people start labeling THEMSELVES (technical term is “identification with the aggressor), THAT is when the bullies win, folks.

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