Sadists Invented Science Fair

Joe and his 4th grade science fair project

It’s Science Fair time again. How the hell did we get back here again so quickly? I swear I just put last year’s science fair boards into the recycle bin. Am I in a time warp?

This year, Joe wanted to do his science fair project on how today’s supermarket bread doesn’t grow mold because of preservatives. He thought it would be interesting to see how long it takes organic bread to mold compared to conventional bread. We talk a lot in this house about our food, about food transparency, and about how we deserve to know what is in our food before we ingest it. We try to be healthy with our eating habits. I prepare whole foods, buy organic most of the time, and watch their sugar intake when I can. I do allow splurges because I’m not going to be Diet Hitler and slap bad foods from my sons’ hands before it reaches their mouths. (Although it sure would be helpful if someone would do that for me.) Food is something Joe thinks about. So he wanted to investigate preservatives more fully and designed his science fair proposal so he could do just that. His idea was rejected, however, along with the ideas of many classmates, because the experiment part was not deemed difficult enough.

Now, I love science. I do. I find it fascinating, and I understand the importance of getting children involved in it with hands-on discovery. But, I thought the main impetus for science fair projects was to foster genuine interest in science. These kids aren’t inventing the wheel. They’re showing how an alkaline interacts with a base (hello, baking soda volcano) or how plants grow better with healthier soil. The science experiments at this age aren’t meant to solve a world dilemma. I’m sure there are national contests that turn toward higher level concepts, but this is not what is going on at the boys’ school. Last year, the science fair winner at their school was an experiment about whether mood rings work on cats. As creative as that project was, I’m pretty sure no one won a Nobel Prize with it. Still…it got a darling little girl (and potential future crazy cat lady) interested in hypothesis and experiment, and I applaud that.

After Joe broke his disappointing news to me at pick up, I got cranky. Science fair makes me cranky to begin with. Multiply it by two school-challenged kids doing science fair projects simultaneously, and I border on downright hostile. Then, tell me that the idea that engaged Joe’s curiosity and interest in research wasn’t good enough, and I bear teeth like a grizzly. I poured a glass of wine early and got busy investigating back up ideas with him. As we were researching (and I was quietly muttering about voodoo dolls and black magic curses), we discovered something interesting. On every web site geared toward middle school science fair projects that we checked, the moldy bread experiment was mentioned. Curious.

Joe and I discussed two options: he can take the research in to show his teacher and fight for his perfectly appropriate project or he can come up with a new idea. One idea we’ve bantered around (in keeping with the same food/preservatives theme) is determining if food coloring can lead to increased pulse rates and hyperactivity. We suspect it does based on how his brother Luke reacts to food-colored candy, like Skittles, versus non-food colored candy, like chocolate, and how his mother feels her heart race when she eats Hot Tamales. We believe Red #40 and Yellow #5 are responsible for most of the insanity in our home. And Joe likes the idea of using his brother and mother as a human lab rats. I think that’s a middle school dream come true.

No matter what happens with Joe’s science fair project, I’ve determined one thing to be true. Joe’s teacher is a sadist conducting her own science experiment. She’s trying to see how many parents she can send over the edge.

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