Jewish Journal


April 12, 2010

Science Fair Hell- Redo


Yesterday’s blog was all about my beef with science fairs today and while I was growing up and how much I hated them to the point that I decided to do the unconventional by proving in my 11th grade science fair project that science fairs were a waste of time and that all the parents did the projects for the children anyway thereby not accomplishing anything worthwhile.  The essay was inspired by my own children’s science fair project that is due in two weeks.  Our house is covered with glue sticks, poster boards and letter stencils. 

For the past three months that I have been blogging, I have been well received.  Most of my essays are met with praise and with applaud. Either that, or utter silence. But, I have yet to have experienced a person who has taken the time to criticize my work….. until today.

A friend and colleague who will rename nameless (Seth Menachem) who is a fellow writer, blogger, filmmaker, actor wrote this about yesterday’s essay:

“Nice one… but I thought you’d tell the story of how you fought the system and won… or lost.  The school just decided to bring back the science fair?  And, you don’t bring it back around with your son… how are you doing things differently now that you’re the parent?  I felt like there were a few things going on there and they got combined and never followed through.  You open with a story of your son’s science fair project, you tell of what an expense they are, you tell of how you were the queen of science fairs but don’t make mention of who you FELT as the queen.  You also talk about how parents are the ones who make all the kids projects - did they make yours?  And then when you think it will come around to your son it never does.”

At first I was annoyed.  (a particular six letter word came to mind unbefitting for a Rebbetzin to utter.)  Then I started rationalizing some of the commentary. 

Rationalizations like….  Look buddy, I just spent two weeks slaving in my kitchen for Passover.  I made 6 roasts, 12 kugels, 10 loaves of gefilte, 9 different homemade salads and dips, 1 chocolate cake that flopped, another that worked, two trays of strawberry ice cream that never did amount to much which I threw out wasting sixteen dollars and seventy cents on strawberries and eggs, a chocolate mousse, chicken soup, vegetable soup, a roasted lamb and a total of 16 chickens.  I went through 2 rolls of heavy-duty foil covering my entire kitchen and 6 rolls of contact paper. Do you know how hard it is to use contact paper? 

I served 24 meals and a total of 300 mouths over the course of 8 days.  I didn’t have time to write one article and I finally made time to sit and write something that is funny, relevant and entertaining with glue and glitter trapped under my fingernails- SO DON’T MESS WITH ME.


Then I started to re-read the essay. And I pondered Seth’s commentary.  I obsessed over it in fact because….He was right. 

I slacked off. I got overconfident and lazy.  I was so excited about finally getting my groove back enough to write something, anything, I never took the time to truly give it my all. And so, while I sit and eat crow, I have decided for the sake of good writing, to attempt this essay once again.  Here is the new un-lazy version.

And to Seth Menachem, I hate when you are right.  For those interested in viewing Seth’s blog go to:  http://www.lifeadvicefromoldpeople.com/

But be sure to rip him apart if he slacks off too.

Science Fair Hell Part 2:

The time has come where my children are scheduled for yet ANOTHER science fair.  Another hundred bucks at Michael’s spent. Another series of fighting with them to tackle their boards with colored paper, graphs, and photos.  It’s like a dank black dark cloud hovers over our home until April 28th when the project is due.

When will this end, WHEN??

When I was in eleventh grade I was in a private school that had science fairs each year. After 10 years of fairs, 20 backboards, and thousands of dollars in supplies I decided to buck the system with the very skill these fairs had instilled in me.

The hypothesis? 

“I believe I can prove through analysis, graphs, charts, and careful statistics that years of science fair is indeed not only a waste of time and has taught me nothing except how to torment the next generation, clip art supply coupons and invest in trophy companies leading me to believe it should be cancelled for all eternity.”

I was a supreme science fair genius in my day.  I had won first place for nine years in a row. I once made it to the county fair and won first place!  I was what they called “The Science Fair Queen.” 

Yes, I wanted that first place title to continue, but more than anything, I wanted to prove this fair was a waste of time, that parents did most of the work, that the competitive edge was sending our students into emotional collapse, and it needed to be stopped! Stopped I say!

Indeed my findings were correct. Most parents did do the projects for the kids. Even the Science Fair Queen was guilty.  Every year, by tradition it seemed, I never attempted to do one thing for the Fair until the night before when my meltdown would leave me drowning in my own snot and tears. In those days you couldn’t buy a backboard at Michael’s. Michael’s didn’t even exist. They had even more overpriced stores they called hobby shops that didn’t sell backboards either. The only place we were getting a backboard was at Home Depot, in the lumber department. You actually had to build one!  I am not nor will I ever be nor have I ever been a builder.  I can barely squeeze caulk out of a tube to reseal the bathtub. 

My father would yell at me for waiting till the last minute and there I would be begging for my parents to relieve me of my pain. To which my mother, the artist, would finally, after a good hard lecture and several “I told you so’s” would finally and valiantly come to my rescue with her golden hinges, screws and wood board.  She even built me a wooden plank that wrapped across the backboard and held my fancy title.  The very title she stenciled herself and glued herself.  The first year I kept this dirty little secret of forcing my parents to do the backboard, I was in the third grade.  That year I won first place. The project was entitled: “Malaria, Where Does It Come From?”  I even cheated further and went to the hobby store and bought one of those wooden mosquito models that was completely against the rules.  I told everyone I was so handy I not only built my own backboard but I even built my own mosquito. The teachers thought I was a genius.

This routine went on for 9 long years.  And every year I would win first place.  The fair that sent me to the county was on child development. I asked my younger siblings a bunch of random questions and had concluded that kids are different- BIG SURPRISE.  Truth is, I just made up half the answers cause my siblings were asleep the night before at 1 am when I started the project.

I was filled with guilt and remorse, but at the same time relished in the esteemed first place title.  I would literally arrive to Science fair night like a star with the administration rolling out the red carpet, parents glaring for their own lack of sleep and jealousy, and other kids hating me for winning year after year. Showing up to science fair night was like showing up to Oscar night for Meryl Streep.

The truth was, I was tired of the façade.  I also felt that the amount of money spent could have been put towards other innovative out of box projects like Film fairs, write your own book projects, create your own business enterprise schemes, record or write your own songs, create your own organization that benefits society. Anything could have been given to us through out the years that could have widened our horizons yet the teachers kept giving us the SAME exact annoying, G-d help us, uniform and uncreative irritating diorama backboard project year in and year out to tackle.  Hypothesis, conclusion, title , we get it.  Colored graphs, alright already. Optical illusions- been done a million times! 

I can promise you, I have NEVER once in my adult life ever needed to use a backboard .

No one has ever asked me for a graph.

The only optical illusion I now appreciate is the one my broken scale gives me that tells me I’m five pounds lighter.

So did my lucky streak continue to live on with my science fair “Queen” title? 

Not only did I win first place out of the whole school, the administration decided unanimously that science fair would be cancelled until further notice.  I was beyond thrilled and elated.  I had jacked the system, defied the odds, challenged mediocrity. 

The next year they instituted Torah fair instead.

Torah Fair is pretty much Science fair but without any scientific data whatsoever.  Torah fair is to Science fair what the Catholic Church is to Michael Angelo.  There is a backboard, a report and the only difference is that while Science Fair is judged on the best experiment, Torah Fair is judged on the best project visually and creatively.

I was not about to budge, quite yet.  I had my senior year to prove this nasty trick the administration tried to pull out of their brash pockets would not go down without a serious fight.  I insisted that if they were going to make a Torah Fair the only fair thing to do would be to allow the senior class to work in pairs. 

They relented after my complaining, and after I promised to impress them with the project of all projects. They knew my winning streak, and they respected me as their Queen, so they gave me their word we could work in “pairs.”  I also had one question- “Did the Torah fair project have a maximum size requirement?” To which, they responded, “No.”  I had them.

This time, I decided not to wait till the last minute.  I gathered my entire senior class (there were 7 of us) and day in and day out we made not just a banner, but the largest painting in the history of School projects.  We got a canvas the size of a two story building.  We painted the largest mural for weeks.  (Of course, I didn’t paint, cause I can’t draw, but I directed the hell out of this thing.)

It took three classes of high schoolers to drag this mega project through the doors of the auditorium before school started one early Tuesday morning. We got the janitors Julio and Michael, who were also my housekeeper’s brothers, and thereby very loyal to me to hang the project before the Principal pulled up to the school.

That day while all the kids were shlepping in their oversized heavy backboards made out of wood and peg board the seven of us nonchalantly strolled into class empty handed.  The administration took one look at us and asked- “Nu, where is your project girls?” 

The entire school crammed into the auditorium to view our mammoth size billboard poster hanging in the cafeteria. We didn’t get first place. In-fact, we weren’t judged at all that year because they had claimed we had broken the rules by not working in pairs. Seven is not a pair. That was the first year in my school career I didn’t walk home with a first place metal. It would have been my tenth trophy, but I couldn’t have felt better.

This year when my kids ask “mommy, why do we have science fair? What is the point to these fairs?” I will tell them the point to science and Torah fair is to teach you how to creatively impart messages to the world.  My message was I’m not gonna take it, I’m not going to be put into a box, and if I have to go down, I’ll go down with a fight.

‘Course my husband just wants my kids to learn what the speed of light is. He’s now in charge of fairs in our house and no, no one ever gets first place.

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