Picture the scene: Your favorite gospel singers are up on stage doing their between-song schtick. One unfortunate group member is the butt of some jokes aimed at his intelligence. All in good fun, of course. Then another member helpfully offers an explanation for his comrade’s denseness: “Oh, that’s right, so-and-so was homeschooled!” The crowd guffaws obligingly.
Before going further, I want to clarify that I’ve seen more than one example of this, so I’m not intentionally singling out any group in particular. However, to give just one instance, I’ll mention that Bill Gaither used to give guitarist Kevin Williams this punchline in his banter with Rory the soundman. Rory, as Gaither fans may recall, was famous for staring blankly into space while Kevin and the others reeled off clever one-liners at his expense.
Full disclosure: I was homeschooled all the way through high school. My mother taught me most of what I know about good writing and good literature. Suffice it to say that by the time I was doing Shakespeare, Dante and the rest in college, half of it was review. And that’s not even either of my majors.
However, I’m truthfully not the least bit hurt or offended by this particular punchline. You see, we homeschoolers have a pretty thick skin. We learned long ago not to pay too much attention to how the rest of the world might view us. Instead of getting our knickers in a knot and throwing a hissy fit, our preferred strategy is to smile winsomely and collect all the spelling bee/geography bee/moot court trophies in the country.
The real reason I’m criticizing this stock joke is that it makes talented artists whom I like and respect look silly. And out of touch. Whenever I wince at yet another homeschooling joke, believe me when I say that I’m not wincing for myself. I’m wincing for them.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, before homeschooling was even legal in most states, it was understandable for outsiders to regard it with some bafflement. Hippies formed one of the main demographics lobbying for it, which didn’t exactly correct the public perception that homeschooling and academic rigor were mutually exclusive. And certainly some parents abused it as an excuse to “un-school” their kids.
But people. We’re talking two generations, give or take. As the homeschooling movement has risen, gained traction, and won legal sanctioning in most of the country, the rest of the world has had literally decades to learn better. Winks and nods about how so-and-so’s momma “homeschooled” him (read: let him play in the sprinkler while other kids were learning their A-B-C’s), which might explain why he’s now a few fries short of a Happy Meal… can’t anyone
hear how hopelessly outdated this is? It’s like the announcer who once introduced Fernando Ortega by saying, “Fernando Ortega… man, what a name! Makes me want to run out and buy a taco or something!” Both types of gaffes should inspire anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past 30-40 years to cringe with equal feeling on the speaker’s behalf.
Ironically, while homeschoolers are sometimes accused of being “insular” and “sheltered,” it’s jokes like these that reveal a truly sheltered mindset. It doesn’t make me feel sorry for myself, it just makes me feel sorry for someone who’s obviously met so few homeschoolers!
Again, this is not about me, as a homeschooler, feeling insulted and wounded. I am neither of these things. This is me saying please, performers, for your own sake, please retire the homeschooling jokes.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s all sing Tim Hawkins’s homeschooling song together, shall we?