Nerd day at preschool: Innocent or insensitive?

What does dressing up for “nerd” day teach preschoolers?

My AJC co-worker Ellen Eldridge sparked an interesting discussion on Facebook yesterday on the word “nerd,” which prompted me to ask her to explore the issue on the blog.

While Ellen was writing her piece, I was covering a panel Monday at Drew Charter School in east Atlanta where coincidentally a panelist mentioned the term “nerd.”

Karol Mason, assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, was asked what one piece of advice she would give Drew students drawn from her own experience as a student.

Thinking back to her middle and high school career, Mason said, “It is important to like school and not be afraid to achieve. I would rather be called a nerd or a goober or whatever name you call people who are smart now and be able to have a great life. Education is the key.”

Here is Ellen’s column. Enjoy and discuss.

 By Ellen Eldridge

A is for Apple. Let’s stick to the basics in preschool.

The words we use have meaning and more than anything else as a writer and a mom, I want to teach my kids to say what they mean and never use words to exclude or demean others.

We all know “C is for cookie” and that’s good enough for me, but associating a letter for each of the last 26 days of preschool created more controversy than creativity as far as I’m concerned.

I dug out our Guess Who board game for “Game Day” and went along with “Hat Day,” but shortly before heading out for “Muffins for Mom Day” this morning, I got an email reminder that tomorrow is “Nerd Day.”

“So, uh, what’s a nerd?” I asked myself before my morning coffee.

A quick Google search reminded me that, yeah, “nerd” is a pejorative term, one of the stereotyping words that brought back terrible memories of middle school, where the wrong choice of clothes or afterschool activities branded one an outsider.

I talked it over with my husband. OK, I bounced my thoughts against him as he listened. I wanted to hear how I sounded before taking up the subject at school. My Facebook friends reacted when I queried them, though.

Ellen Eldridge

Ellen Eldridge

Memes of Bill Gates went up, warning others, “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.” A friend posted an article by Wil Wheaton, where he wrote about why being a nerd is awesome.

Fine.  Of course, I agree it’s great to be intelligent, quirky, offbeat and even weird. These are the traits I embraced in high school and used to sturdy my self-confidence. But, at its heart, the etymology of nerd is slang and in context has been used as a way to make fun of others. Not what I want to teach my young learner.

Some sources, such as the Boston Globe, say “nerd” may have first appeared in print as a creative creature in “If I Ran the Zoo,” by Dr. Seuss in 1950. Nerd is bookended by “Nerkle and Seersucker, too” in the text, which may give a bit of insight into the dress code.

When I asked the preschool director how does one dress like a nerd, she suggested glasses and a bow tie. She told me a nerd is just a bookworm.

I want better from my children’s academic leaders. I’m a word geek, a grammar girl and a wannabe nerd. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words are known to harm hearts.

One of my friends said schools shouldn’t encourage kids to laugh at other people who are awkward, dress differently, love academics, etc.  “And considering there is some overlap between ‘awkward’ and special needs in some cases, this idea is a can of worms waiting to explode,” she said. “This sort of humor is better for older teenagers and adults.”

We adults can take the power back from hurtful words, but as educators of young minds let’s be cautious with our word choices and teach them to say what they mean.

If I had the stack of cash, I’d take another friend’s advice:

“Send her to school in a T-shirt and jeans carrying a laptop and a stack of hundreds.”

 

Reader Comments 0

45 comments
Amanda Butler
Amanda Butler

almost all the letters are referring to food items, when I read this I thought immediately of NERDS candy, which is probably what they meant when they put it on the calendar

insideview
insideview

Nerds unite! get over it, we're too sensitive !

Jada Nicks Edwards
Jada Nicks Edwards

I'm a proud NERD. I'm 100% geeky, and not a thing on this calendar is offensive in the least. Folks need to get a serious grip!!

Tia Fowlkes
Tia Fowlkes

Interesting---when I read Nerds and Noodles I was thinking the candy. My thought was what an odd food combination.

rooster613
rooster613

@FreeRangeKids After all, we nerds celebrate it at ComicCons, Star Trek conventions, etc. If you like computers, thank a nerd!

rooster613
rooster613

@FreeRangeKids Unfortunately I could not read the article because the menu covers the scteen on my phone. But as a nerd I see no big deal.

manda99
manda99

@FreeRangeKids My son (at 9) dressed as a "nerd" for Halloween and he got a lecture at one house instead of candy. \U0001f914

NonPCNovel
NonPCNovel

@FreeRangeKids If not everything is a big deal, how can we get the government to regulate everything and make the world perfect?

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

All I can hope is that for Queens and Quarterback day on Friday, that the boys dress as queens and the girls dress as quarterbacks!  Talk about gender stereotyping...  By Monday, the whole idea would be scrapped :)

lab-mom
lab-mom

@Beach Bound2020 Yeah - this was the one that got me more than nerds and noodles (and I, too, thought candy and spaghetti).

gapeach101
gapeach101

Nerd day in a preschool? What 3 or 4 year old knows what a nerd is?  Generally it is not a positive term (until you are an adult and maybe not even then).  Why would anyone do that?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Another interesting Facebook comment on this question:


I don't like it when K students are told to dress "like a 100 year old" for the 100th day of school. It's disrespectful to their elders. I'm all for having fun, but usually spirit weeks at the elementary school level are just a distraction. Leave something for the older kids to look forward to.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney "Dress like" not "act like."


Our school's spirit weeks revolve around "Wear a hat" or "wear red" which are easier themes for ALL kids to participate.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady @MaureenDowney One issue brought up on Facebook is the cost of outfitting your child for 26 days of themes -- the schools say you don't have to buy stuff but I have found myself rushing out to find ugly holiday sweaters -- thrift stores were all out because so many schools now have ugly holiday sweater day. (I had ugly Christmas sweaters but gave them away, never realizing my children would someday plead to wear them to school.) And then there was pajama day where only those long footie pajamas or pajama sets satisfied dress code. And tourist day. And Back to the Future day. And Surfer day. 

Carrie Walters
Carrie Walters

I'm 45 years old and fly my nerd flag proudly. The cool thing about nerds is that we are ourselves and don't bend to society's so called rules as to how we should act, think, feel, dress, etc. . More schools should have nerd days, we nerds can show them how to be awesome on their own terms.

Nichole Biddle Gunderson
Nichole Biddle Gunderson

Proudly married to a nerd and good friends with many. Nerds can be incredibly successful; the Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, to name a few, for example.

Milo
Milo

Celebrate  nerdness! Down that long winding road, the non-nerds will be mowing the nerd's lawn. 

methuselahschild
methuselahschild

toughen up buttercup.. the world is not a nice place all the time.. teach them to high achive.. but also to have a tough outer skin .. we should all be nice and caring.. but dont expect the same back.. just cause the other guy is a piece of crud doesnt give us the right to be.. but just because he is .. doesnt mean we have to pay any attention to him either...

Tasha Gordon
Tasha Gordon

being called a nerd isnt a bad thing, being a nerd is cool

Tasha Gordon
Tasha Gordon

Though originally derogatory, "Nerd" is a stereotypical term, but as with other pejoratives, it has been reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.

Renee Smith Goldman
Renee Smith Goldman

Apparently someone is seriously behind the times. Kids now identify as being a Nerd because it is cool. So unlike years ago.

Kymberly Hartfield
Kymberly Hartfield

This woman looked up the DEFINITION of nerd, smh. That's how behind the times she is.

Tasha Gordon
Tasha Gordon

NERDs are more than cool and nothing wrong with being a nerd or being called one, if a person takes it wrong that is an issue with them and their self-esteem, i am proud to be a nerd, geek, etc etc :p

Tia Fowlkes
Tia Fowlkes

My 20 year old is a nerd on full scholarship. Was offered the scholarship the fall of his senior year before he applied. The catch was he had to apply for early admittance for the scholarship. I think "nerds" are great!

Renee Smith Goldman
Renee Smith Goldman

TBH After years as a teen portraying a "Hood" persona for those around me, I embraced my Dr. Who loving, voracious book reading, trivia Nerd self and married a Ph.d Physicist Nerd and had two amazing gifted Nerd sons! Nerds Rule and let's be honest there is a little Nerd in everyone. Whether it is a love for baseball statistics, history or gaming it exists in some way. Those that used it as an insult were just insecure about themselves. I can proudly say that even when I was "fronting" I didn't make fun of people. I always knew that was wrong.(Thanks Mom and Dad! Your lesson that all people are different has and still is serving me well.)

Kymberly Hartfield
Kymberly Hartfield

Oh my freakin GOD! What's making these children weak and insensitive is these punk-a$$ parents who also advocate for participation trophies and dumbed - down grading systems.

Chester Plunkett
Chester Plunkett

A Liberal Yankee who is Hypersensitive .......that's not stereotypical. If your not happy with the school then go the Charter school or homeschool route. Seems like a lot of hoopla over nothing.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

There are some interesting comments on this issue on AJC Get Schooled Facebook. I wanted to share this one:


As a self-professed nerd and former high school teacher, when they would have Nerd Day during Homecoming week, I wore blue jeans and my best physics humor t-shirt (i.e. "Back off, man- I'm a scientist"- Peter Venkman). If the thought behind it is just to dress awkwardly, why not change it to Tacky Day?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney For some kids, every day is Tacky Day.  By that, I mean there are many kids out there whose clothes come from Good Will (if they are lucky).  Mismatched, ill-fitting clothes are what they have.  We have to remember not everyone is middle class.

Amy Johnson Hayes
Amy Johnson Hayes

As a self-professed nerd and former high school teacher, when they would have Nerd Day during Homecoming week, I wore blue jeans and my best physics humor t-shirt (i.e. "Back off, man- I'm a scientist"- Peter Venkman). If the thought behind it is just to dress awkwardly, why not change it to Tacky Day?

wmganz
wmganz

@IAMMGraham Just plain stupid, what's the point. How abt founding Father's Day, come dressed like Washington, Jefferson or Franklin

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I was a nerd, although back then it was called "brainiac" or "studious."  Fortunately I had a strong sense of self and it never bothered me or my best friends, who were also nerds (We graduated 1, 2, 3 in our class). I must note that no one tried to assault us over it, however.  Your nerd child, nor any other, should ever be assaulted over their special attributes.


I think the key to a lot of this is raising your child to be self-confident, rather than stepping in to try to change every little thing you think is a slight.  When you do that, you chip away at their self-efficacy.  Be a sounding board, not an automatic fixer.


I raised 3 nerds--thank God!  They were each bright and high-achieving, with unusual talents and interests, but they were also very social and confident--quite likely to tell someone to shove it if they were actually harassed, or walk away.


In short, I think being called a nerd should NOT get someone's mama's hackles up.  

bu22
bu22

@Wascatlady The idea of this was to confront it and defeat the pejorative part of the word.  The author wants to hide from it in some safe space.  That is what gives it power, creating a bunch of fragile snowflakes.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@xxxzzz @Wascatlady I agree that we cannot let any words have power over how we see ourselves. We need to teach our children that how they see themselves is important.  And as for other people and their comments?  Pfoof!

D_T_Mar
D_T_Mar

@IAMMGraham God forbid we hurt someone's feelings. Don't let hard work get in the way of a happy feeling. We are doomed!

CSpinks
CSpinks

To reiterate the point made by AA-G Mason and by former GA State Senator Charles Walker: "Education is the key."


It's a shame so many folks don't seem to appreciate that incontrovertible fact.