More bad news for American schools: social skills taught aren’t useful in adulthood

This Business Insider piece covers a longitudinal study by Joseph P. Allen from the University of Virginia. As noted in The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (see my review of the book in these postings: Finland; Poland; American Public; American Private; What can a Parent do?; Korea), Americans like to comfort themselves that though our schools perform poorly on things that are easy to measure, such as educational attainment, they perform well on things that are hard to measure, such as socialization and sports team building: “Instead of the apprenticeship/mentoring environments that prevailed throughout most of human history, we decided to put hundreds of teenagers together all day every day. What could go wrong?” Allen’s study, however, found that teenagers who were experts at impressing other teenagers did not have superior skills for impressing adults. As adults have most of the power in this country, the “cool kids” from high school struggled upon reaching their 20s.

My personal experience in this area comes from following the most popular kid from my 5th grade class. He had long blond hair, was good at sports, and got invited to every birthday party. My parents lived in the same house for more than 45 years so I thought that perhaps they might know how he was doing as an adult. My mom said “I know exactly what he is doing. He’s living in his parents’ basement, smoking dope, drinking beer, and watching TV all day.”

Separately, to celebrate the World Cup, here’s a story from 10 years ago: I was walking past a youth soccer game with a friend from Massachusetts. She said “This is wonderful. By playing on a team these kids are learning everything that they will need to succeed in business.” I replied “Yes, I’m sure that you’re right. That’s why Nigeria, Argentina, and Cameroon have the strongest economies.”


  1. Craig

    July 7, 2014 @ 3:12 pm


    It’s been my experience that most of the kids I meet and talk to that seem to have superior social skills are homeschooled. I’ve encountered this at gyms, sporting events, fairs, stores, parks, etc. I wonder if others have noted similar experiences?

  2. Colin Summers

    July 7, 2014 @ 5:15 pm


    Wait, are you saying that his life of leisure is marking him as *unsuccessful* in your eyes?

    How much has he had to pay in divorce court settlements? How much has he paid to the government versus how much has he collected?

    It sounds like he speaks to his parents daily, and has plenty to discuss with them (from the daily intake of information through the device-of-choice).

  3. Yossi Kreinin

    July 9, 2014 @ 12:03 pm


    Colin’s comment has almost brought tears to my eyes.

  4. Dr. Evil

    July 14, 2014 @ 11:22 am


    My homeschooled kid is immensely popular. He has more friends than he knows what to do with and whenever he goes to a park or something he has a gang of kids organized and playing with him within minutes.

    Paul Graham addressed the question of high school cliques in this well-known essay: . His view is that nerds are unpopular because, unlike most high school students, they spend less than 100% of their time and energy figuring out what’s cool in order to be cool. He points out that, at jobs, no one really cares who’s “cool” because talk is cheap but whiskey costs money; stylish clothes and the latest slang might help a little on the margins, but if some ugly nerd is beating your numbers, you’ll be the one that gets fired no matter how trendy you are. Of course, this is less true in jobs where “being cool” is actually part of the job description, like fashion reporting or whatever.

    But I wonder how portable high school cool is even into adult cool, never mind adult achievement. It seems like a negative-value achievement.

Log in