Successful at school? interested in precision? or science fiction? If yes to any of these it looks like you're ready to join the army of nerds taking back the workplace. So says David Anderegg a Psychology prof. from Vermont. Research shows that the USA is slipping slowly but surely down the rankings of countries that are good at maths and science. A recent survey placed the USA 24th out of 29 countries. The good news for us is that Belgium came in second.
His years of professional practice as a child psychologist have convinced Anderegg that social stigma in the playground can have far-reaching effects. Children are quick to judge and early labelling tends to last a long time, often staying with you throughout your school years. The problem comes at the frontline of school work. Who wants to be good at maths and science if popularity and acceptance is the cost?
Pre teens and teens have a powerful desire to fit in and be part of the right group and only if we can make cleverness and an unselfconscious enthusiasm for sciency stuff attractive and cool will the ranking start to change. Here in Belgium academic achievement often gets admiring respect in the playground but it's different in the sharply divided world of nerds and jocks.
If all this sounds a bit like profs sticking their noses into childrens' dealings with each other, think about how the new workplace is dominated by science based skills. From computer nerds to genetic researchers, hard science is the most valuable area to be in right now. As Anderegg says, the English literature grad can always go to law school but science is like music, it's pretty difficult to retrain after college and get into something new from an arts or humanities background. All across Europe national governments are waking up to this with golden handshakes for people wanting to enter education as science or maths teachers.
Anti nerd sentiment runs high at schools across America and has been likened to racial slurs for the effect it has on confidence and life choices. With Bill Gates as 'nerd exhibit A' America can't really afford to ignore this phenomenon.
How exactly to change things around? Positive reinforcement obviously, perhaps more imaginative contact between school pupils and scientists. Cool science for kids online is fairly plentiful like this from the University of Nottingham but projects of this quality are rare. It's time to get our skills out there, surely a great idea could happen at TEDx Brussels itself?
David Anderegg will be at TEDx Brussels December 6