Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On social identity and our high school selves

There's been talk all over the blogosphere about our younger social identities and such terms as "nerd" and "geek". I was really impressed by New Kid's take on everything, discussing how fluid her social identity has been (including how to identify herself off the tenure-track). I'm about to get long and rambly, with the end point that my social identity changed fairly drastically during high school, and also that "Brain" and "Social Misfit" don't always go together.

In the younger years of elementary school, we were all friends. And then, at some point of the "middle years," I became very much ostracised, for a variety of reasons. I was a "good kid" and didn't drink or smoke. I was socially awkward. I got really good grades. My clothes weren't really cool. Suddenly, I was the least popular kid in the school.

The funny thing is that I wasn't really motivated in school, at that time. I did my homework, and good marks came easily to me, but I hated school. Right up until I was accepted into an advanced class in high school, I was sure that advanced classes weren't for me: did I really want to stand out even more as the "smart kid"?

I credit that advanced class with rescuing me, and for putting me on this path that I'm on now. The funny thing is that, as I was embracing being a "smart kid," I was also ending my stint as the socially-awkward misfit. We had a really diverse group in that advanced class. In fact, until I was in grade 12 they refused to put "advanced" in the title of our program, because they were more concerned with creating "autonomous learners" and complete selves. Our group reflected that: yes, we had a couple of "computer nerds" and general "smart kid types", but we also had other social groups in that class -- the "band kids," the "skater girls," some "SRC popular kids," the types who were involved in everything and were friends with everyone. And we were all friends. Within the dynamic of that class, I was one of the "smart girls" (we had the top marks in the class), who were also the ones who were friends with the boys.

But, somehow, I wasn't completely defined by my place within the advanced class. I was part of a school where social groups were largely defined by your school involvement (okay, except for "The Smokers" and "The Skaters," unless you extend that past formal
school involvement). Football (popular), other sports (middle-of-the-road, unless you were a female basketball player, in which case: popular), cheerleaders (unpopular, actually), band kids (popular-ish), choir kids (middle-of-the-road, because our choir was so huge), drama kids (popular), yearbooks kids (a little weird but well-known), computer geeks (unpopular), Motor Mech (unpopular, unless the boy was cute).

I was involved in band, choir and yearbook, which meant that I had a wide range of social groups and a lot of options. I also dressed crazy like the band and drama kids (vintage clothes), which made me a little harder to categorise. I wasn't popular popular, especially considering the fact that I had nothing to do with the mean popular kids who sometimes ended up on the SRC (in my grade, we had two kinds of popular: mean and pretty and usually rich, and genuinely popular and nice and usually pretty, both of which groups usually ended up getting elected to student council). But the Mean Pretties left me alone, mostly because they feared my friend Carrie (whom they both feared and respected, and who threatened them, should they come anywhere near me -- I was oblivious to this until well into university). I was really happy with my place at my school.

But, at the same time, I was also a Brain. It was the same thing in my undergrad and MA: Brain and social butterfly, both at the same time, even as my specific social groups changed. (On the other hand, now my place is a lot more uncertain. I'm certainly not the Brain and social butterfly out here. Maybe I'd be happier if I didn't try to quantify myself with such terms and learned to be myself.)


Teacher Lady said...

I think you worry about labels too much.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Well, the focus on labels is partially the point. I'm responding to a lot of discussion about labels.

Kate said...

o_O That is so oddly similar to my own youth that I am flabbergasted. Popularity in early grade school, increasing social isolation due to perceived nerdiness and social maladaptation, social reawakening in advanced programs in high school... even the blend of popularity strata you describe is eerily similar to my high school recollections.


Big C said...

Well I am glad that the people who went to public school came out "socially adjusted" and not like those wierdos who were isolated at home.

Just jokes really but I have never bothered to think of any of these labels.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Big c, where you the cool kid in your graduating class?