Is it cool to be dumb?

Dec. 31, 1969, 7 p.m. | By Amina Baird | 51 years ago

There are five minutes left in sophomore Rocky Hadadi's Algebra II class, just enough time for the students to look over their grades on the last test. "Oh my God," one of the students says, "I bombed that test so hard!" "Yeah?" one of the others challenges, "Well I got an E; how do you like that?" Two freshmen standing in the circle look sheepishly down at their A's and, in a split-second decision, cast the truth aside to join in on the bragging.

The notion that a failing grade is something to boast about is nothing new in American culture. Tom Sawyer bullied and beat his cousin Sidney for reading books. The cool kids of Rydell High teased school nerds in the musical Grease. Today, some Blazers continue the tradition of chastising those hardworking, high-scoring students sometimes known as dorks, causing many potential honor rollers to go out of their way to hush up, dumb down and plaster an image that they, too, are dumb enough to be cool.


According to an informal Silver Chips survey of 100 Blair students taken on Sept 9, 88 percent have seen classmates purposefully make themselves seem less intelligent than they really are. One student, junior Asha Sussman-Hall, has felt pressure since elementary school to keep her answers and high grades to herself. In class and out, the first things she modifies are her words. "I carefully funnel through what I say and the vocabulary that I use to make sure it doesn't sound over-intelligent," she admits.
Raising her hand in class is another action that Sussman-Hall limits. She refrains from pointing out the teacher's mistakes because she is afraid of that quiet little murmur of, "Oh, there goes Asha again."

Social crisis

Junior Thomas Desimon acknowledges a definite pressure on teenagers to keep their brainpower to themselves. In middle school, he noticed the stereotype that good grades bring and avoided broadcasting his successes. "I used to think if you got good grades, you were the perfect student," Desimon said. "[But] being the perfect student," he says, means being "essentially less cool."

Hadadi recalls an instance in middle school when she questioned her own coolness. During class, Hadadi and a friend were discussing the literary import of a Charles Dickens novel. After a few minutes of discourse, they heard the kids behindthem whispering, "What losers; all they ever talk about is books." "We felt like such dorks," Hadadi exclaims, admitting that she remained quiet for the rest of class.

After years of exposure, Hadadi has learned to let the derogatory comments about her efforts in school roll off her back. However, some of her fellow CAP students do not so easily dismiss teasing remarks. Hadadi observes kids who are well-behaved in their CAP subjects act up in non-CAP classes to show their friends that they are neither nerds nor teacher's pets.

Another method of avoiding these stereotypes is to point out failed or uncompleted work rather than successes. In fact, 80 percent of Blazers say they have noticed people emphasizing their bad grades and rarely advertising their good ones. Sussman-Hall says that when she sees that someone with a lower grade than hers, she often points out a failing grade from years past rather than own up to her current accomplishments. When she does share triumphs, she often feels uncomfortable. "When I truly succeed, I get mostly supportive comments," she says. "But I can tell that for some, under the surface, there is that jealousy or contempt."

Ramifications of ridicule

These silent jealousies and spoken criticisms are far from harmless. According to University of Maryland Researcher Nancy Forsythe, the effects of teen-on-teen teasing include depression, and violent and self-destructive behavior. This dejection is based on the teenager's failure to see him or herself as cool enough or similar enough to everyone else. If teenagers are continually exposed to an environment in which their academic successes are looked down on, their depression could carry over and prevent them from obtaining self-confidence and a high-achieving position in the future, according to Forsythe.

Emilio Williams, an educational consultant working at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C., believes intelligent children often hold back because they don't want a spotlight on any qualities that make them different than anyone else. "It becomes easy to dumb down or pretend they don't know the answer, or purposefully fail because they don't want that kind of focus," Williams explains.

In the end, however, focus will be just what a student needs to get a scholarship, receive a promotion or be the head of a company. Physics teacher John Schafer believes that a student should be proud of his or her brainpower and use it to the fullest extent. "Somewhere down the line, it's the smart people who are outspoken about it that are going to succeed," he says. "It's possible to be a cool nerd."

Tags: print

Amina Baird. Amina is pretty cool, she is kinda tall and she just got a tattoo she is supposed to be doing something but i think she is procrastinating. She enjoys long walks down blair blvd with a man who shaved his beard and she eu7uh78hgyt More »

Show comments


No comments.

Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.