science fairs

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Jul 18 10:40:39 EST 1995

I would like to thank everyone who has responded to my initial post about 
science fairs, both those who have posted and those who have sent email.  
The responses have been quite diverse and thoughtful, and it's wonderful 
that so many people took the time to respond.  A few things have come to 
mind based on reading the various posts:

1.  Many people who read this newsgroup have had very positive science 
fair experiences, and the points about increased confidence, interaction 
with judges and parents, and the value of the learning experience are 
well-taken.  But I have been wondering, and this point came up in a 
different thread about the value of all-female science classrooms, to 
what extent the sample is biased by talking to the winners, to those who 
made it through and probably would have gone into science anyway, or at 
least had a favorable 
impression of science anyway, science fair or no.  As Mark Williams put 
it in his post, what about the effects on the losers?  To me this is 
still a rather significant concern, because in this situation, many more 
losers than winners are going to be created.

2.  A few years ago I read a book called "They're not Dumb, They're 
Different:  Stalking the Second Tier" by Shiela Tobias, who I believe is 
an educator and someone interested in science education specifically.  
She had people who had succeeded in non-science fields go back and take 
science courses and keep diaries during the experiences.  It's been a 
while since I read the book, but one conclusion that I remember was that 
these students were put off by what was termed the "culture of 
competition" in science classes.  Perhaps this is getting a bit off the 
subject of science fairs, per se, but I see a connection between a 
competitive attitude inside and outside the classroom.

3.  Just recently in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, 
there were editorials run about a public mistrust of science, or a 
"flight from science and reason."  Obviously the causes of this 
anti-science are complex and have many political undercurrents; we could 
also question whether the "problem" is actually bigger now than it was in 
the past, since quackery, astrology, faith healing, and such things have 
been around since recorded history began.  But as is happening with many 
forms of wealth in this country, we seem to be separating into the scientific 
haves and have-nots, and it seems that, also not unpredictably, some of 
the have-nots are turning against the haves.  To what extent are we 
contributing to this and related schisms by activities that continue to 
reward individual egos without consideration of the common good?

Whew, maybe it is something about Monday morning that contributes to 
soapbox mode . . .

Thank you again to everyone who commented on this thread.

Karen Allendoerfer

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