Do you like Trader Joe’s? If you’re an educator and you misuse humor, there’s a good chance you might end up working at your favorite grocery store.

Educational humor must be inclusive and avoid any appearance of ridiculing others or stereotyping groups. Sexist, racist, derogatory, or obscene humor is never justified.

In the traditional classroom, instructors can often recover from a possibly offensive flippant remark with the “I was just joking” defense. However, it’s considerably more difficult to later spin a comment or statement as a joke in a virtual setting.

The cancel culture police patrol the instructional cloud 24/7 for humor crimes. For example, an educator repeating or posting a comic’s simple literal truth joke based on the word slow will receive a violation.

I live near a remedial school. There is a sign that says, “Slow … children.” That can’t be good for their self-esteem. But, look on the positive side, they can’t read it.

—Jimmy Carr

Even sharing a joke about political correctness may be red-flagged because it makes light of academic failure.

As a teacher, it’s important to be politically correct. I’ve learned not to tell a student they’re failing my class, but rather that they will have another semester in which to get to know me better.  

—Bonnie Cheeseman

Given the double-edged nature of humor and the cancel culture mob’s vigilance, the safest target is always the instructor. Self-deprecating humor puts students at ease and avoids belittling or alienating others.

I know as a teacher I should use self-deprecating humor, but I really suck at telling jokes about myself.

Another safe target is academic subject matter. It’s highly doubtful that the following math joke will trigger a Twitter lifetime ban.

Two random variables were talking in a bar. They thought they were being discrete, but I heard their chatter continuously. 

The careful selection of humor targets during remote learning is critical, and the two safest targets are the teacher and the subject matter. Instructors might make fun of other topics but should carefully consider how students might react before including certain humor in online courses.

Before I add risky funny to my online instruction, I ask myself a simple question:

Do I want to be canceled?

I always conclude that getting a virtual laugh isn’t worth the possibility of working as a Whole Foods cashier.


ADDENDUM: I appreciate the dedication of all the frontline workers in the food industry and I would be honored to bag groceries – I was just joking.

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