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My stock gradually rose during high school. So I’ve seen a good part of the popularity landscape. The key to this mystery is to rephrase the question slightly. In the schools I went to, being smart just didn’t matter much. I wanted to be popular.
But in fact I didn’t, not enough. I wouldn’t have taken it. To them the thought of average intelligence is unbearable. But most kids would take that deal.
And that, I think, is the root of the problem. American school kids work at popularity. I don’t mean to suggest they do this consciously. For example, teenage kids pay a great deal of attention to clothes. They don’t consciously dress to be popular.