Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why I'm Uneasy With Nerds On TV

I am a nerd. I scored very well on SAT, GRE, GMAT, and Praxis tests, and generally can perform well on standardized measures. I enjoy working mathematical puzzles. I think precision and accuracy in language is important.

But as far as I know, I am nowhere on the autism spectrum. I have many normal social interactions. My speaking voice is neither whiny nor squeaky.

I do not use suspenders to hold my pants with the waistline above my navel. Nor is my inseam so short as to reveal my socks when I stand. I wear eyeglasses neither held together with tape nor featuring lens diameter outsized for my face proportions.

As a math teacher, I hear many colleagues speak glowingly of TV shows which have a "nerd" as leading character. They say they like to see smart people cast in a positive light. They assume these shows are my favorites.

But I am uncomfortable with what I've seen of these shows. I find the caricature of "smart" people demeaning. I dislike the implication in the writing that "smart" is an innate quality and cannot be developed. I question the choice to cast smart people, with possible exception of the lead, as physically unattractive.

My school holds a Spirit Week each year for seniors, where each day is devoted to some theme. Last year's Spirit Week included a Nerd Day. Most of my seniors came to school dressed in some ridiculous stereotype portrayal of "smart person." I wrote to my principal and suggested that, perhaps, this was not the correct message to send to our students -- that being able to perform academically makes one a target of ridicule. I think we should celebrate our students who achieve, not hold them up for derision.