||Last Updated: Mar 19, 2014 - 10:07:59 AM
Two words stir terror in the bones of middle school parents above any other. Even more than “corrective orthodontics.” Yes, even more than “sex ed.”
Science fair. It is the educational vortex into which every child of middle grades is thrown, and as they desperately grasp trusted (and foolish) hands for rescue, the swirling suction draws their parents in, too.
Within days, everyone has gone mad, battling unwieldy project components and losing all social civility. The hypothesis was too vague, the procedure became a part-time job, the materials cost $50, and the results were inconclusive. And when it’s all over, are we any further along in our quest for a better world?
I contend that we err from the starting point of the science fair: The Question. Sure, it’s handy to know the boiling point of Red Bull or the impact of Chapstick on dog lips. But what if our children could make the kind of discoveries that would be truly life-changing? What if they could, once and for all, answer the questions that their parents have been asking for years?
It would go a little something like this:
Question: Did you wash your hands?
Research: Prior to the advent of soap, washing of hands meant merely holding them under moving water. In more modern times, the concept of washing has come to incorporate soap, which is to be lathered into bubbles under warm water.
Hypothesis: Yes, I washed my hands.
Variables: Visibility of contaminants, potential for contagions, and the need to handle food.
Procedure: In one 24 hour period, as needed, one subject washes hands with warm water and soap, one rinses with tepid water, and one wipes hands on pants. All daily activities proceed as normal.
Analysis: No variance in the health among the subjects was observed. Well, unless you count that rash subject two contracted. And subject three’s chronic dry-heaving.
Conclusion: In accordance with 17th century standards, yes, I washed my hands.
Question: Will your dinner dishes walk themselves to the sink?
Research: Dishes are inanimate objects, incapable of walking.
Hypothesis: No, my dinner dishes will not walk themselves to the sink.
Variables: Proximity to sink, obstacles in path, and general regard for good manners.
Procedure: At the conclusion of every meal, parents will leave all abandoned dishes on the table.
Analysis: When place settings were not carried to the sink, dirty dishes with rancid scraps of food were found on the table at subsequent meals.
Conclusion: The dishes do not appear to be able or willing to walk themselves to the sink.
Question: Do you think we have a money tree?
Research: U.S. Currency is printed by our nation’s Treasury. Somehow, this money makes its way to the wallets of parents and they are able to fork it over for various goods and services as needed.
Hypothesis: Parents are running an organic cash co-op with the Treasury Department.
Variables: Needs, wants, supply, and demand.
Procedure: Deliver extra TLC to every tree in the yard, and watch for blooms of Benjamins.
Analysis: The trees have failed to produce money.
Conclusion: Money trees can only grow inside ATM machines.
Question: Do I look like the maid?
Research: Maids are hired to do domestic chores and cleaning. Mom is often seen scrubbing toilets and brandishing laundry detergent.
Hypothesis: Mom looks like the maid.
Variables: Condition of home, conspicuousness of maid-like activity.
Procedure: Leave toothpaste gunk in sink, shoes in middle of floor, and kitty litter well-soiled. Observe attention to these conditions by any human in the home.
Analysis: The mess appeared to irk no one, except Mom, who eventually cleaned it up.
Conclusion: Yeah. Mom pretty much looks like the maid.
Question: Are we really trying to heat/cool the outside?
Research: The HVAC unit inside the home is operating to keep the interior temperature 20 degrees warmer/cooler than that of the outdoors. Windows and doors need to be shut in order for the unit to accomplish this with the least amount of output. Open doors and windows would allow for warm/cool air to escape, thus heating/cooling the outside.
Hypothesis: No, we are not trying to heat/cool the outside. That would be silly.
Variables: States of haste, forgetfulness, and lack of consideration.
Procedure: Parent will monitor, over the course of a week, the number of times a door or window is left open.
Analysis: Doors were left open an average of twice a day. Windows were left open four times throughout the week.
Conclusion: I’m pretty sure we’re trying to heat/cool the outside.
Question: Do you want your father to come in here?
Research: Misbehavior yields punishment. Resisting punishment is seldom successful. If too much resistance is deployed, a second parent will be called in and the punishment will likely be less negotiable and more painful.
Hypothesis: I probably don’t want my father to come in here.
Variables: Location of father, quarter/half/period/inning of game father is watching.
Procedure: Gamble that father is not actually available. If he is not, maintain innocence under a thin but exhausting cloak of reasonable doubt. If he is, deliver a prompt confession and show of remorse.
Analysis: The gamble did not pay off, and the father was not happy to miss the final seconds of the game.
Conclusion: No, thanks, Mom. We’re good.
Question: Whose homework is this, anyway?
Research: The homework was issued by my teacher. It came home in my backpack.
Hypothesis: Let’s just see how this plays out.
Variables: Extent of whining, level of compassion.
Procedure: After a show of baseline good-faith effort, completely sandbag intellectual capabilities and odds against deadline. Produce tears and shortness of breath. Procrastinate and require reminding.
Analysis: The parent will resist active assistance, busying him/herself with dinner dishes and bill-paying, but will succumb to pity five times out of ten.
Conclusion: It is half my homework, half your homework.
Question: Did you just roll your eyes at me?
Research: While blinking is an involuntary reflex, movement of the eyeballs requires deliberate nerve messaging from the brain.
Hypothesis: I was not rolling my eyes, per se.
Variables: Conspicuousness of flutter, accompanying sigh of sarcasm.
Procedure: In a perfectly still lab environment, parent engages in argument with subject, repeating points of contention over and over and concluding with, “You just have to get the last word, don’t you?”
Analysis: Subject’s eyes rolled a little.
Conclusion: I had an eyelash.