I enjoy reading about science, exploration, and research. My grad school focus was in healthcare administration, but the human biology, anatomy, and physiology coursework was what intrigued me the most. I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent, but when it comes to practical applications and understanding the physical sciences, I have the intellectual ability of a table lamp. I couldn’t engineer my way out of a paper bag.
I recently tried to help my sixth grader with his science assignment. It was about principles of light and reflection. I’m a photographer. I know exactly how to bounce flattering light onto a subject, how to diffuse and filter light, how to use angles to illuminate certain areas of someone’s face. I can pass the Farnsworth Munsell 100 Hue Test, which measures how the eye distinguishes colors, with 100% accuracy. I understand angles of incidence and light absorption. Can I explain how or why any of this happens? Not a chance.
“Using the information you’ve learned about the propagation of light, explain why light reflects off of a mirrored surface, but not off of a black velvet surface.”
Um, because it DOES. Duh.
I bring this up because yesterday I received a lengthy email from my freshman’s high school physics teacher about an assignment that is due next week. In lieu of a semester test, students are to create a car powered by a single spring mousetrap. The kicker was her little paragraph insisting that this project is a wonderful way to spend time with your child, and it must be completed by the student, but parents may “brainstorm ideas, use power tools, glue complex pieces together.” (Snort!)
It’s fair to assume that David will be earning his grade, whatever it may be, completely on his own. I got to thinking about how shitty this assignment is. You know damned well that there are parents out there who are engineers, mechanics, and so forth who will sit down with their kids, and even if they are not doing the project for them per se, will know exactly what insight to offer to create the Aston Martin of mousetrap cars.
Flashbacks to my own junior high science fairs, where my mom and dad, who were business majors, and employed a certain laissez-faire type of parenting, never helped me one iota with any project, from conception to execution. So my sad little “Is It Magnetic?” project with household objects glued to a poster board and a string attached to a marginally working magnet, that was hastily rendered the night before it was due, had no chance against the exhibits displayed by the progeny of local pharmacists and professors who showed up at the Colby High School gymnasium with working nuclear reactors, prototypes for flying cars, and fleshed out proofs of Fermat’s last theorem.
“Wow, you did this all by yourself? I didn’t even know they sold heavy water at TG&Y. Nice work!”
© Jennifer Alys Windholz, 2015