So this one was also part of the local science festival and featured an author, David Anderegg (Nerds). Quite different from the other speaker. Anderegg is a clinical psychologist who sees patients who are children, and has seen first hand how the stereotype of "nerd" can manifest itself. Seems like those experiences have formed his extremely passionate view to the extent that he's become an activist. He argues that adults should not use the word nerd around kids the same way they would not tell dirty jokes around them. He's looking for the media and all adults to change our ways so that children will start doing well in school, instead of pretending to be dumb so that they don't get called a nerd. (Disclaimer that I haven't read his book - just listened to him speak.)
Interesting. The word nerd gets used in a lot of ways. The middle schooler on the panel discussion said that the most common time she hears people labeled nerds is when they are poor performers in physcial education class. The panel and audience were teachers and parents who were very energized and turned the discussion from "what's happening" to 'how to do something about it". Kinda fun! They talked about bringing scientists into classes to show them how scientists and smart people can be normal, successful, popular, etc.
But the part that struck me the most is how different east coast people are (compared to Californians). As a way of explaining how complex the nerd stereotype can be, Anderegg described a man who wears some particular brand of shoe, dines at a certain restaurant and vacations mostly on islands that he refers to by part of their name - example "the vineyard". I figured out the vineyard was Martha's Vineyard (I travelled to Cape Cod once). But I had no idea what he was talking about for the first two clues, and did not solve the puzzle he was presenting us with - he was describing a WASP (white anglo saxon protestant). I have heard this acronym before but it means nothing to me. I have never heard a Californian talk about WASPs and have no idea what the cultural significance of them is... (And yes, I am absolutely blaming my ignorance on his strange East Coast metaphors and my Californian-ness.)
I'm not quite as fired up as Anderegg is about the anti-nerd movement (haven't removed "nerd" from my vocabulary) but will be sure to provide positive reinforcement to the few young people I interact with about the value of doing well in school and knowing things. And maybe I'll eventually read the two nerd books, excuse me, the books about the stereotype formerly known as nerds.