Photo by: NPA

Geek Phobia-- Can We Get a Vaccine, Please?

Photo by: NPA

America has a lot of long-time, embarrassingly idiotic attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices about a lot of things that can make us the laughing stock of the world, and no where is this seen more acutely than in jr. high and high school. For example, what total no-brain started the attitude, so many years ago, that athletic ability rules, and that having any kind of smarts or artistic talent is considered geeky? Probably someone who ended up spending their life on welfare, in jail, or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Someone who was no doubt operated on or supervised by, at one point in their life, by a “geek”. But here we are, at least 60 years later, and that attitude still prevails, hurting us in so many ways. I actually heard a friend say to me a couple years ago, “I’m not going to encourage my son to be in the band because I don’t want him to be called a band geek.” Huh? I tried to set her straight. Though my band experience ended in 9th grade and my oldest daughter’s ended by 7th, I have a lot of friends who found their life’s career in band, not to mention those who simply found a hidden talent, great friends, and memories.

“People who are in band, or choir, remember, are musically talented,” I told her. “Which means they are pretty fun people. Their parties are fun, even school field trips are fun, because there’s always lots of music and you never know—there could be an impromptu jam session, or singing… they have great music collections and they’re usually pretty good dancers, too.” (well…at least the drummers are…)

I related some of my own memories to her. I’ll never forget a “spring tour” I went on with my high school show choir (we were called “The Purple Aires”— naturally, since our high school colors were purple and gray). Our choir director booked us to sing at a church and in the cafeteria of a community college in the greater Kansas City area, which was a day’s drive from my hometown. Not sure if even one of those college students ever looked at us while we were singing, but we still had a lot of fun (Worlds of Fun, to be exact—that was the name of the theme park we got to visit)—and we did break into a song or two on our “tour bus”… Fast forward to 2007— I’m driving a bunch of 6th grade Girl Scouts around Washington, D.C., and the band girls who are riding in my rented minivan start an impromptu “mouth version” of the Star Wars theme (a piece from the spring band concert), singing their particular instrument’s part, perfectly on pitch, using the word, “Duh” for each note. Several band “sections” were represented in my car and so, as all the parts chimed in and came together, it actually sounded good! I christened them The Duh Band. They had so much fun, they kept doing it again and again, recording it on their phones (the second time with an emcee, of course) and eventually performing it for our whole troop. Even girls who normally weren’t friends were having a blast and cracking each other up as they performed. It was one of my fondest memories of the entire trip, and I felt sorry for the girls who weren’t in band.

By the end of our conversation, my friend said she’d never thought of band kids as “fun” before and I thought maybe I’d changed an attitude. Not sure that I did. Her son didn’t enroll in band. When grown adults start worrying about whether their kid is going to look “cool” or not, we’re in a sorry state.

Speaking of Scouts—now there’s yet another group who gets a bad rap. The uniform probably doesn’t help, but, uniform aside, Scouts offer some pretty cool things kids can’t get in other activities, at least not at a young age. Opportunities to learn how to lead, whether it’s leading the troop in a meeting, or leading a service project, or teaching younger Scouts how to do something. Opportunities to experience a whole lot of stuff in ways other kids can’t. My 5th grade Girl Scout troop slept overnight at NASA in March, something only offered to Scouts. Also that semester, we took a curling lesson (yes, Dallas has a curling club!) and visiting the only wolf sanctuary in Texas. It’s so much more than camping and selling cookies (although those activities are good as well) and yet parents either don’t sign up their kids (one mom told me, “I was never in Scouts so I’m not signing up my daughter”) or they let it go by the wayside as kids get busy with sports and other activities or, it falls prey to the “geek” label.

Kudos to Girl Scouts of the USA for continually trying to update the uniform and trying to keep the program fresh and “current”. Kudos to movies like “High School Musical” and the TV show, Glee, which has helped boost enrollment in school choir and theatre programs. And kudos to all the travel agencies out there who specialize in arranging choir and band trips to exciting locales. Jay Johnson, the owner of Coastline Travel in Garden Grove, CA, (I work with a lot of travel professionals in the corporate freelance writing that I do) told me last week about how his agency resurrected the Hawaii Invitational International Music Festival, and that when bands and choirs are able to plan trips to Hawaii, it doubles their membership.

In the next few months, my daughter Emmie is going to have to decide if she’s going to participate in 6th grade band next year and if so, what instrument she’ll play. Band instruction is provided for 6th graders every day during school hours in our district (even though our 6th grade is still at the Elementary School.) I told her I thought she ought to consider percussion, since she’s had the piano experience they require, and they might even let her play her guitar.
“But, Mom,” she said yesterday as we drove to church, “hardly any of my friends are going to be in band.”
“Why not?” I said.
“They think it’s for geeks,” she said.

Patricia Long Allbee is a freelance writer in the Dallas area, having written for the Dallas Morning News for over 20 years and also published in D Magazine, Dallas Child, and The Dallas Observer. Her blog, Uncool Mom, was voted Best Blog in Dallas in 2009 by Nickelodeon ParentsConnect readers. She is the mother of two girls, a preteen and a teen.

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49 Comments

I have been a long time Girl Scout (this is my 22 year) both as a girl and an adult. They offer so much and I'm excited to start Daisies this year with my 5 year old. If only more people could find the good in programs like this and get their kids involved. Our society would be a much better place.

I see many "older" members of our church playing instruments in our church band. It gives them so much joy to play, as well as joy to those of us who listen. Why would anyone rob their child of the opportunity to learn a new skill? Studies have shown that those who play music do better in school.
The same goes with the Girl Scouts...

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Bottom line is: We've got to step back and let our kids experience life for themselves...whether that means they want to be a "band geek" or that we were the band geeks and they end up as jocks!

I totally agree with what you've written here. I was a band geek and made some great friends. My almost-1 year old loves plunking on the piano and strumming the guitar. She's got some pretty good dance moves. I only had the chance to be a Brownie, but I can't wait to sign my daughter up for Daisies when she's old enough. Yes, uniforms in both groups left a lot to be desired. Oh well. These are great experiences for working with a group and meeting all different kinds of people...

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It seems you harbor as much hostility toward jocks and anyone non-geeky when you state that whoever invented the attitude probably lived their life on welfare, in and out of prison, or addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Your elevating geeks and people who enroll in band above those who are athletic does as much harm to your children's mindset as those who do the opposite. Judging someone by the activities they choose to participate in is wrong...

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This prevailing attitude has fostered a generation of ill-read, untalented, direction-less, under-educated dim-wits that bring nothing to the table as adults. What a shame. When will the tide turn when we will be worshiping at the altar of wit, smarts and talent? I tell my little girls - you will be smart and well-read, and only then will you be truly cool.

Hey there, Geeky Athlete, sorry if you thought I was dissing athletes. No, just people who look down on everything but athletics. I knew several growing up and they weren't necessarily athletes themselves. I do have one child who is a serious athlete and practices 3-4 hours every day-- the one who is about to be in band as well.

I, too, am a band geek as are both of my children. My daughter was given her first trumpet - a pocket trumpet - by an older gentleman in our church. She learned to play by herself - not a lesson until 6th grade when her talent really took off.
We've since discovered that some colleges pay you to play the bugle in the morning and at night - $3500!! They have saxophone scholarships for kids who want to join the sax ensembles...

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I blame our educational institutions for making sports so popular. The adults who run these institutions have put such a high stake in winning or losing. Colleges have ranks that they have to meet or they fire coaches. What happened to wanting to go to school for the education they can offer you instead of their sports ranking?

Music helps your math skills, and just like sports, gives you a work ethic and team work...

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It is precisely b/c of this attitude that the US lags so far behind in education. My boys are in lower elem. and I am continually astounded at the emphasis put on sports at such a young age-both from parents (daddies mostly)who want to live through their sons and school districts who want to live through their football team. If we cared as much about schoolwork as we do about our sports there is no doubt we would have a different country.

While the original blog did emphasize the great things about band (and all the performing arts) and could seem to be ignoring the value of athletics, I think that's just because our culture has such a negative attitude towards 'braininess' and the arts. The bad rap of 'brains' is particularly strong...

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Hi. I am just curious, why would a student on welfare be catorgized in the same lot as a drug user, or other illegal activity? I think musical talent isn't dependant on ones financial well being. Especially in this bad economic time. I have never been on welfare, but do not hold it against someone either. It is not a bad thing to take care of your children in any way you can.

I agree with Geeky Athlete...

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I was the troop leader for a while while my daughter was a Brownie, and it was hard work but incredibly wirthwhile. We did mostly charity projects because we wanted to foster a sense of community responsibility...

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"Probably someone who ended up spending their life on welfare, in jail, or addicted to drugs or alcohol. Someone who was no doubt operated on or supervised by, at one point in their life, by a “geek”"

As a self proclaimed and very proud geek, I just want to point this out. You are attempting to end a stereotype or change the mindset of stereotyping and yet you just did the same which in turn tears apart every bit of credibility to the desire to dispel the stereotyping of geeks...

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