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The Plague of the School Science Fair

The Plague of the School Science Fair

My son's favorite experiment was "Which Jokes Are Most Likely to Make My Brother Laugh so Hard at the Dinner Table that Water Spurts Out His Nose?"


Last week I asked my husband if we could go out to dinner, just the two of us.

"Are you crazy?" he said. "Don’t you realize the school science fair is this Thursday night?"

He was unable to look at me while he answered, because he was busy gluing a map of Micronesia to one of our son’s project display boards. This was a very intricate undertaking, as Micronesia is comprised of approximately 4,000 islands, some of them rather tiny.

Like tax season and television "sweeps" week, the school science fair is an annual plague. The day I had proposed going out to dinner, I had run around town like a maniac hunting for a place that could laminate 4,000 islands of Micronesia in a hurry, not to mention scavenging for other materials that some of our kids requested for their projects, including eye of newt. By evening, I managed to block the dreaded topic from my mind just long enough to have asked this absurd question. Of course my husband and I wouldn’t have a minute to spare until we, with some minimal guidance from our children, overcame the hurdle of the school science fair.

How many more houseplants must suffer as kids lock them in a dark closet for a week?

One has to wonder, how many more generations of kids are going to compare Wisk and Tide detergents in their ability to get pomegranate stains out from a white school shirt? How many more houseplants must suffer as kids lock them in a dark closet for a week, only to discover the plants are screaming in plant language, "Let there be light!" How many times must I as a parent relive the annual bad dream that is science fair?

I pondered these weighty issues while my husband slaved away on the display board, showing the fascinating weather patterns over Micronesia. (These range from "balmy" to "really sunny.") All this on behalf of a child who was too busy reading Harry Potter in the bathroom to come out and help. Meanwhile, I was negotiating with another son over his ideas for his own project. I admit, his ideas were strikingly original, and like any good scientist, this child had performed each experiment many times to verify the results.

Despite his enthusiasm, I tried to talk him out of an experiment called, "How Long Can You Not Brush Your Teeth Before Your Gums Bleed All Over Your Shirt?" (based on his most recent visits to the dentist); "How Long Can the Hamster Spin On His Wheel While On a Calorie-Restricted Diet?," an accidental experiment with tragic conclusions; "How Long Can Old Cream Cheese Sandwiches Live Behind the Bed Before the Mold Seeps Throughout the House, Thus Requiring Major Renovations That Need Permits?," and his personal favorite, "Which Jokes Are Most Likely to Make My Brother Laugh so Hard at the Dinner Table that Water Spurts Out His Nose?" For this one, he had even made a bar graph showing differing results based on knock-knock jokes, jokes taken from Popsicle sticks, and Marx Brothers routines.

One might hypothesize that these ideas were of only questionable benefit to the World of Science. However, they did capture my son’s imagination and spark his interest in further home-based experimentation. When we had reached a deadlock, I coerced him into doing a less personally revealing experiment. This project, "Will Baseballs Still Bounce After Being Boiled for Nine Hours?" was taken from a real book in a real library. I kept my son’s baseball on a low boil in my hot water urn all day. After hours of anticipation, my son and I discovered two things: First, you will ruin your baseball after boiling it for nine hours. Second, you will also ruin your hot water urn, since it now smells permanently of baseball. (Perhaps I could try dabbing a little Wisk or Tide detergent into it, to see if I could recapture that fresh, non-baseball scent.)

Utterly dismayed by these boring results, my son forged ahead with his bar graph charting the most effective jokes to induce hilarity-based nasal sprays at the dinner table. The Science Fair judges awarded him first place for originality. I hope my husband gets over the disappointment soon.

Judy Gruen is the author of "Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout," (Champion Press). Subscribe to her regular humor column at

March 8, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) anonymous, December 11, 2007 8:38 AM


toooooooooo funny! thanks for the laugh!

(5) Annette, April 2, 2003 12:00 AM

Lived it!

Last week was my son's science fair. I was the parent that went shopping for all the needed materials, I was the one who stayed up with my son looking things up on the internet, I was the one who cut & then pasted onto the display board all his info (while the tired little scientist slept!) & I was the one who shlepped it all to school the next day, while giving in a late note ("Why is he late?" "Two words: SCIENCE FAIR." "Excused.")But iit is also true that it got him to think about what he will do for next year. And that is the true purpose of these fairs; to encourage those budding minds to work & start thinking for themselves. So what if we give it a nudge?

(4) Anonymous, March 13, 2003 12:00 AM

love your humor

As one of those devious science teachers that assign these parent nightmares let's see if I can help: there are books on the subject and the internet is filled with projects, but your son is thinking and that is the purpose of the science fair projects. We want to kids to not swallow everything they are told.

(3) Anonymous, March 10, 2003 12:00 AM

The best critique of science projects - ever!

As a high school science teacher for over 30 years and a parent, I am circulating a copy of this among my colleagues simply because it is the best (truest!) critique I've ever read. The term "plague" is not an exaggeration; right on, Judy!

(2) Wondering Jew, March 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Love it, Or hate it

Like any part of life, if you look at a science fair with humor you will prevail.Wonderful article. I loved reading every word(I had the time to read. my children's science fair is over and done with 'till next year.)

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