Monday, February 9, 2015

The World Needs Nerds

Take some smart kids and turn them into superheroes with abilities based on science. I am of course talking about Big Hero 6.  We watched it together in a not so crowded theater on a winter afternoon. We loved every part except for one, when Tadashi tries to convince his little brother Hiro that he should be using his exceptionally smart brain for something other than robot fighting, Hiro responds "No way I am going to your nerd school"

With no reference to what that was, my seven year old daughter leaned over to me and whispered "Daddy, what is a nerd?"

I couldn't get into it during the movie because well, I can't stand those people who talk during a movie so I whispered to her "A nerd is someone that is really smart" and she seemed to be okay with that explanation as Baymax made his first appearance and she forgot all about it.

But during the show I kept thinking about how I would explain what a nerd was. Is that something I wanted her to know about? Was knowing what a nerd was going to affect her love for being smart and loving science?

The movie impressed us all and showed how young Hiro, if he applied himself to something greater, could achieve so much more. I had hoped by the end that she had forgotten all about it but later in the car, she brought it up again.

"Daddy, why is being a nerd a bad thing?"

It definitely isn't though growing up in the 80s with films like Revenge of the Nerds and basically any sitcom from Saved by the Bell to Family Matters showed you, that nerds were everywhere growing up.

Everyone had a nerd friend that they tolerated in public but secretly loved and couldn't live without. Nerds were and are the lifeblood of our ability to move forward in technology, math, and science. So how was I going to explain to this little girl that being a nerd isn't bad?

She's the type of girl that comes home and when you ask her "How was school?" she doesn't respond with the canned "Nuthin" She comes back with "It was AWESOME!" or "It was the BEST DAY EVER!" It makes me laugh every time.

Schools today stress the importance of acceptance and look down on bullying more than ever. Is it the efforts to blur the lines between student stereotypes the reason why I look in the shows that my kids watch and don't see the nerds?

Maybe as someone who embraces nerd culture I just don't see it anymore. I just see movies like Mr. Peabody and Sherman and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs representing those who are just smart and love science. Get your kids to take part in any STEM activity and you'll see their brains actually growing in front of your eyes.

I'm not naive. As a school teacher I met the nerds, jocks, dweebs, mean girls, bitches, preps, and gangstas. Kids find a niche where they are comfortable and often will identify with one or more of these things to stay relevant in social settings. Nerds above all those groups seem to be making the biggest impressions these days.

We see more of an embracing of everything geek starting with my generation in the way we flaunt our retroness. Look at how fashion has embraced nerdiness with nerd chic glasses and hipsters embracing trends that celebrate the weirder the better. I mean Old Style? Really? Even nerds can tell you that is terrible and that's not science, it's just good judgement.

Being a nerd or a geek is more acceptable than it once was with many of the biggest nerds creating the most successful businesses or ideas. Imagine how different the world would be without all the people who invented many of the things we have in our lives today, so many of whom were no doubt referred to as nerds.

So I said to my daughter "Being a nerd isn't a bad thing, some people think that being too smart means you are weak in other things. They might think that you have to be just one thing but the reality is you can be as many things as you want as long as it makes you happy and it makes you feel good about yourself"

She smiled and said emphatically "I LOVE school and LEARNING! I hope one day I get to go to nerd school!" As I looked back in the mirror I saw my little nerdling beaming with pride .  If I still had glasses, I would have push them up on my nose and gave her an almost too hearty laugh in agreement. I can't wait to see what you do either, watch out world!


  1. Love this post. Did you see that talk Wil Wheaton did about bullying, when someone asked about it at a Comic Con? If not, google it. Talk about a celebration of nerdhood. I always thought of myself as one, and I see the value in embracing the label.

  2. This is great - love it!
    I think nerds still take more crap than most. However, I think people appreciate intelligence differently. Maybe, we realize earlier they're going to be the computer gurus etc. and make all the money.