You are the reason why people laugh at homeschoolers.
Someone recently informed me of this fact. And that wasn’t all! I was also informed that my family is an embarrassing stereotype, that we aren’t diverse enough, and that we are “cringe.” It was certainly an enlightening afternoon on the internet.
It started with a post about Teacher Appreciation Week. DJ and I were featured as part of a series on homeschooling parents. We answered a few questions (years we’ve homeschooled, favorite book, a piece of advice, favorite memory, etc.), and our answers were posted with a family photo.
It was the photo that did it.
In the picture, we’re all posing with books or plushies or other items that reflect our interests. It’s a bit goofy, but that’s part of the fun. At just a glance, you get an idea of the different personalities and interests that make up our family. You also get the idea that we’re a nerdy bunch of people. We are, and we embrace that fact. It’s a pretty good picture of us and we figured others would enjoy it too.
What we didn’t expect was that a few people on the internet would find it completely baffling. Despite the fact that the Q&A clearly identified us as the family pictured, a couple of women thought it was a stock photo of a “stereotypically nerdy 90s homeschooling family.” They were insulted that they, real homeschoolers, might be associated with this embarrassing fake family photo. They commented as much.
DJ and I quickly entered the thread to let them know they’d blundered. Not only was it a photo of a real family, but that family was reading the comments. We were gracious about it. After that, their only real recourse was to make awkward apologies and drop the subject.
Oh, hang on, my mistake. It seems there was one other option: double down on their opinions. All of them responded by expanding on the fact that our photo was embarrassing. They explained that we were the kind of stereotype that they had to push back against. People like us made life harder for people like them. We were the reason why people laughed them.
At the same time, they didn’t think that DJ and I had any reason to get upset about their opinions. After all, all of them said things like, “I’m sure these are lovely people, but…” and “I’m not judging the people, just the photo.”
One commenter even stood her ground on principle. She “refused to deny the reality” that we were an embarrassment to everyone else. I’m sure she thinks we’re lovely people, though.
It stung, I won’t lie. Yet like Elizabeth Bennet in my favorite novel (as identified in the Q&A that none of these commenters appeared to read), I saw the humor in it. Along with Lizzie, I could laugh at these people echoing Darcy’s dismissive, “She’s tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” These people were comically obtuse. They continually insulted us… oops, I mean our photo… without understanding that they were making themselves, not us, look bad.
But it could have gone very wrong.
Firstly, I’m at peace with who I am, but I wasn’t always that way. For years I disliked myself, hating being “the dorky one” and wishing I was prettier or more interesting or—yes indeed—cool. Had this happened to me in those previous seasons, it would have devastated me. No matter what dream I tried to pursue, I’d have those nasty voices in my head telling me I was a nerdy stereotype, and that others resent me because I make people laugh at them.
Secondly, what if any of our kids had seen these comments? Sure, I could explain that these commenters appeared to have deep insecurities, and the problem was theirs, not ours. But how much of that would a teenager really take in, when they could actually see the unkind words being hurled at them? There’s no humor in that situation. We would be furious, and rightly so.
As it was, the situation resolved much better than it could have. Our friends weighed in, commenting on how much they appreciated our family. Complete strangers jumped to our defense. And other complete strangers ignored the drama, instead reading our Q&A and responding with their own favorite books or memories. Meanwhile, the admin of the post stayed busy all afternoon, hiding the astonishingly rude comments.
Gradually, things calmed down. The trolls, having gnawed on our egos enough to assuage their gaping hunger, disappeared. So did their comments, thanks to the admin.
Yet one woman hung on. She’d been one of the first to comment, saying that “she was sure we were lovely people, but…” that it was a silly photo. DJ cheerfully agreed, adding that he kept it in his office and he enjoyed it. You’d think this would have taken care of the matter, but no. Every time someone would post their dismay at the rude comments directed at us, this lady showed up to clarify that all she said was that the photo is silly, that it was an odd choice, that she questioned why it was chosen.
Even when I responded to her directly, she clung to the thread like a bug on a windshield. (She shouldn’t be upset by that comparison because I said she was like a bug, not that she was a bug. I’m sure she’s a lovely person.) When the admin pinned a general comment reminding everyone to interact with grace and kindness, this woman replied again.
So I addressed her: You have now stated that opinion four times. The choice of a photo doesn’t affect your life, but your continued insistence that it’s “odd” and should be removed does in fact affect mine. We like this family photo, and if you don’t, feel free to move on. Your opinion has been seen. Please stop now.
Surely, I thought, she’ll let go and let the wind take her away. See if you can guess her response:
- I am very sorry. I didn’t stop to think how it made you feel.
- I don’t know why it bothers you so much, but fine. I have other things to do.
- I WAS DEFENDING MYSELF AGAINST THE SCOLDING ABOVE
Yes, it was 3, ensuring that everyone understood the truth: that she obviously did think she’d put her foot in it, but was unable to admit who tracked in the bad smell. At this point, I had to laugh again. The admin brushed her off the windshield, and I could relax. By the next day, it was over—a little Facebook tiff over the fact that our family photo triggered a few people’s “bully the nerds” response.
One of the reasons why we chose to homeschool was because we knew some of our children wouldn’t conform to traditional expectations. We didn’t want them to be targets simply because of who they are. Well, what do you know—here were fellow homeschoolers coming for us because they didn’t like how we looked.
There are bullies in every community. Fortunately, many more people in our community were quick to run to our side when we needed it.
I’ll probably never encounter these trolls again, either online or in real life. That’s fine by me. But if by some chance it does happen, I know what I’ll do. I’ll straighten my shoulders, blast Taylor Swift singing Mean, and I’ll see all those lovely people…
…right out the door. Good riddance.