The “No” Hypothesis

 “I don’t think it will work”. 

was neatly printed across the answer box, under the word, hypothesis.

I looked up from her worksheet, bent my eyebrows into a question mark and punctuated it with a “huh?”

The student shrugged a shoulder, but her face was sure and solid. “ I don’t think it will work.”

“Nothing is going to happen.”  Her tone wasn’t angry, or even disappointed.  Just calling it the way she saw it.  Seemed like she’d seen a lot of “nothing is going to happen,” and this just seemed like the next one in line.

We’ve been working in her class to help students study and improve the conditions in their school.

We’ve talked about things students wanted to change at their school and how we can study them, and innovate to create improvements.  One group of students wants to make school lunches better.  Another group wants to find a way to control the temperatures in their classrooms.  A third group wants to reduce asthma triggers and asthma attacks.

This student had noticed that the bathrooms were a mess.  Some of the sinks didn’t work. The toilets were often plugged up, and toilet paper could be missing.  Sometimes there wasn’t even a bathroom monitor around to open the door.

Her project was to check the bathrooms and report on their condition to the janitor and the bathroom monitor. 

But “nobody’s gonna do anything.”, she said.  Matter of fact.

Science is supposed to be calculating and methodical. Just the facts, based on what we know.   Based on a long line of “nobody’s gonna do anything,” her hypothesis that “It won’t work” is a likely outcome.

But the soul of science and innovation is hope—that we can find ways to make things better.                        

Poor health and learning conditions in our schools steal from our children. When students swelter through heat waves and shiver in the winter; when poor ventilation and asthma triggers sap the energy and health of students, there are no sirens that alert us to this theft.  No data is collected to show us the loss of potential caused by these conditions.  In the city with the highest asthma rates in the state, we don’t even track absences due to asthma at our schools.

When these poor conditions become the expected norm, it breaks the hope which is fundamental to science and education.   If nothing’s going to happen, why try?

I don’t know which hypothesis is more likely to prove true.

 But whether students can create their own improvements and hope in Baltimore schools—that’s a very important experiment.  Science teachers, consider trying it with your students.

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