The Philosophy Fair

Last spring, I was talking with a 7th grade student about the science fair. At my school we do a Capstone project, that starts with research in 7th grade, and continues to 8th with either experiments or inventions, and then we have a fair in November, with the typical tri-fold display boards. When we introduce the project, we are clear about big-picture, high-expectations type projects- no baking soda volcanoes here.


The kid I was talking to had maybe taken that too much to heart, because he was near tears, feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I asked, “Ok, in 25 words or less, what is your project about?”

“Well, basically, so,  in writing the surveys and connecting the data about what various ages of people and how they would respond over time…”

I interrupted, “Nope- that’s too long- 25 words or less. I know it is about hobbies.”

“Yeah. So, I want to know how people’s pastimes affect the future of the world.”


“That seems really big for a 7th grade science fair project. Let’s maybe figure out a way to narrow it down.”

The tears spilled over and he began gulping air. “Let’s go for a walk.” I suggest. We stood up, I grabbed him a tissue as we left the room, and we walked down to the drinking fountain, and talked about how maybe he could focus on pastimes affecting grades, or health, or sleep. I didn’t get into how the topic is really more suited to philosophy or sociology than science.

Why don’t we have Philosophy Fairs, anyway? Tri-fold boards with Baking Soda Zeno’s Paradoxes. It would be awesome.

It has got me thinking- how do people’s pastimes affect the future of the world?

Take for example, Football. (Just so you know, I am football agnostic- I understand that some people get great comfort from it, but I am not sure I believe in it) There are people who love to put on pads and helmets, and crash into each other, from early childhood on. The effect on the future of the world is that there are a lot of people walking around with brain damage. Not just NFL players, many of the concussions gotten by players happen when they are as young as middle school.(If you want to dive into a brain injury rabbit hole, go here)

Driving– adds pollution to air, uses non-renewable resources. Take for example,  driving to the mountains to hiking trails. People who like to walk drive for an hour to go for a walk around a lake. Why not walk around the lake that is within walking distance of where you live. And, as Steven Wright pointed out back in the ‘80’s (wow- I’m so old), everything is within walking distance if you have enough time.

Electronics- when toddlers are handed iPads when they sit down at a restaurant, so they don’t make a fuss, they don’t really learn how to self-regulate. Back in my day, we took toddlers to restaurants and expected them to behave. If they didn’t, we left, by golly (see, told you I’m old). Even farther back, when I was a toddler myself, we mostly didn’t go to restaurants. If we did, it was a big freaking deal, and you’d better believe we’d behave, no one gave me an electronic pacifier.

I see middle school students who simply cannot let go of their screens. If there is a screen up, they look at it, when a friend wants to have a conversation, when a teacher is talking, all the time.

So, there are brain damaged, electronically-addicted lazy people sitting around. Our pastimes are affecting the world in a way that makes us unhappy. It is not a future world that I can stand.

So…you ask, what do we do about it?

What if people chose pastimes that were beneficial, that made the world  a better place? Rather than adding pollution, they cleaned up, rather than damaging brains, they healed?

Yoga, obviously. But that’s your answer to everything, Harelson! Yeah. I know.


Gardening can actually make the world better. When you compost, and grow habitat, you pull carbon out of the atmosphere (we have probably reached the tipping point about this- I am not sure that my yard can bank enough carbon to make a difference, but wasn’t there something in Candide about “cultivating one’s garden”?) Anyway, me moving physically makes me feel good, and eating strawberries that have been grown in my own soil and sun is better for the world than trucking giant bland strawberries from California. There are studies that show that the bacteria from having your hands in the soil is good for your microbiome, and can make you happier.  If you think gardening is not a pastime, it could be that you are doing it wrong. Landscaping and yard work are awful, but adapting your mindset to gardening feels good. . You may live in a city, where you don’t have space to garden. Look into community gardens, and you will still get the benefit of produce and getting your hands dirty, with the addition of maybe meeting some interesting people.

Self-powered movement:Several years ago, I was waiting in the turn lane of the road into the municipal swim beach, waiting for a gap in traffic and cursing. Then we pulled in, parked, and carried all our junk over to the sand. The beach is about a mile west of our house, but the entrance to the parking lot is way over on the west side. There are 3  traffic lights! It is actually faster for us to tie our towels and pool noodles to our bikes and ride over, cut across the high school parking lot and lock our bikes right by the beach, than it is to get in the car and drive. I decided then that we would always bike there. It just didn’t make sense not to. There are a lot of places like that. I realize we are fortunate where we live, but what if you decided that the bank was within walking distance, and when you needed to make a deposit, or get cash, you loaded up those checks (I’m sure they must be very heavy) and walked down. It won’t change everything, but it can change your life, a little.

What am I overlooking? What’s a pastime that can make the world a better place? Help me out with a philosophy fair project- I already have the tri-fold board.

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