Science fair draws cynical parents closer to nature

Mandatory science fairs and their evil spawn, science projects, are the scourge of parenthood brought on by the “Sputnik scare.” They should have been banned, like nuclear proliferation, at the end of the Cold War.

Photo of a science fair project.

Here’s a bit of family humor by one of the Charleston Mercury columnists, Patra Taylor.

How many ant farms does it take?

It’s been weeks since Punxsutawney Phil poked his sleepy little head out of his burrow, spied something dark and ominous, and darted back to his comfy featherbed to wile away another six weeks of winter. Most people believe Phil was frightened by his own shadow. I have a different theory.

Rather than his shadow, it’s the summons from Warren G. (as in Groundhog) Harding Elementary for Phil Jr. to participate in the upcoming science fair that sends Phil Sr. diving for the safety of his underground shelter. When the science fair is over (which is, coincidentily, about the same time winter ends), he gets the “all clear” from Mrs. Phil and emerges as the peerless weather prognosticator…a moniker he clearly doesn’t deserve.

Mandatory science fairs and their evil spawn, science projects, are the scourge of parenthood brought on by the “Sputnik scare.” They should have been banned, like nuclear proliferation, at the end of the Cold War. So why are the scientifically challenged still forced into this humiliation every year?

I believe the science fair is nothing more than a dastardly scheme perpetrated on normal parents by the nerd class who relish their 15 minutes of fame. Please, go get a job at NASA, and leave the rest of us alone!

How many ant farms does it take? How many exploding volcanoes, Mountain Dew-watered marigolds, and citrus solar systems must there be to achieve a satisfactory backdrop for the nerds’ projects? My son collects rocks. Your son splits atoms. So what?

The only thing worse than the nerd projects are the ones conceived, planned and built by the normal children’s pathologically competitive parents. “My child’s project looks better than your child’s project.” The silent taunting makes the air so thick in the fair arena (a.k.a. school cafeteria) that the smart kid who splits atoms could cut it with a knife if not for that pesky zero-tolerance policy against bringing sharp objects to school.

There’s the solar system built by the 3rd grader where it’s clear her parents’ are intellectually limited to purchasing supplies. Next to it sits the solar system, nearly life-size, entered by the 3rd grader whose father took three days of vacation to create it (it took God four) while the kid sits at school shooting spitballs at the girls through his milk straw.

When I see this extraordinary disparity, I’m always stupefied that the judges don’t get it. Just because fate dealt him a bum hand that forced my kid to do his science project alone, he gets a politically correct participation ribbon, while the kid with his dad’s project heads to the winners’ circle, second only to the atom splitter.

“Oh, come on, Mom. It’ll be fun.”

Just before Phil opted for his six-week retreat this year, my first grader, Benn, brought home his science project information. My husband either spotted the papers lying on the desk, or picked up on my foul mood, as he developed a sudden chronic case of workaholism and I haven’t seen him in the daylight since. After days of avoidance, I finally forced myself back to reality and read through the EIGHT PAGES of information.

“Benn,” I said, feeling a trifle optimistic. “I think this says, in a round about way of course, that first graders don’t have to participate in the science fair.”

“Huh?” replied my articulate and highly intelligent son.

“In other words, I don’t think you have to do a science project this year.” I smiled broadly, allowing the very thought to titillate by brain. “If you want, you can spend the next year thinking about what you want do when you’re in the second grade.” Or you could be like Mommy and spend that entire time trying to block the whole notion of science projects out of your consciousness.

“Oh, come on, Mom. It’ll be fun.”

Such innocence.

I think Punxsutawney Phil has the right idea. Certain things in life are worth avoiding.  The plague, dark alleys, empty carbs, my sister, and science projects all top my list of things I’d consider spending six weeks in a hole with a rodent just to avoid. In fact, maybe a little communing with nature would be good for my soul.

But since I’m still up, and the science fair is tomorrow, maybe we’d better get started.

Copyright © 2019 by Patra Taylor Bucher. All rights reserved.

This column first appeared in the March 2005 issue of The Charleston Mercury.

Still craving more chuckles? Sample some of Taylor’s other humor columns:

The wolf, the chocolates and the curse jar

Author: Patra Taylor

A freelance writer for three decades, Patra Taylor is currently a regular columnist and features correspondent for the Charleston Mercury. In that capacity, she has interviewed numerous Charleston celebrities along with a few national figures including FOX News political commentator, Tucker Carlson; Washington, D.C. insider-turned-winemaker, Bear Dyke; and country music singer/songwriter, Philip Claypool. She is also a regular contributor to Charleston Style and Design and the Southeast Film Guide.

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