During one of my standard interwang browsing sessions at the office I stumbled across this essay by Paul Graham about nerds and the American secondary school system. I think he has a lot of interesting observations, although I think he extrapolates too far in his "secondary schools are little more than prisons" arguments. My favorite quotation:
There was something else I wanted more [than to be popular]: to be smart. Not simply to do well in school, though that counted for something, but to design beautiful rockets, or to write well, or to understand how to program computers. In general, to make great things.
This is, I think, what makes MIT such a wonderful place; it's full of people who want to make great things. That's why the Arts really flourish at MIT too, despite what nearly everyone expects—the same people who want to build rocket engines also want to write poetry.