The Physics of School Closings


As we await another punch of polar air this week, I thought I’d offer up some perspective  on the futility of predicting school cancellations vis-á-vis quantum physics.

Yes, quantum physics.

I’ve been obsessed with quantum physics for a while now. Maybe it’s the success of The Big Bang Theory, or the fact that Schrödinger’s Cat is now part of our pop cultural lexicon. Either way, I haven’t found a better philosophical metaphor for parenting in a long time. Think about it: quantum physics exists solely because the physical laws that govern our universe don’t hold true on the quantum level – i.e., the behavior of small beings (sub-atomic particles/children) are nothing short of irrational and unpredictable, and run wholly counter to what we expect from larger beings (things of discrete mass/non-children). If that doesn’t smack of parenting 101, call me a quark and spin me around and around in a particle accelerator.

More recently, specifically since wind-chill delays and school cancellations have become as unpredictable as my children, I’ve begun to see another dimension to my scientific comparison. Maybe quantum physics can also give us a prism through which to identify and understand the inherent limitations of predicting whether my kids are going to school on any given day.

So for anyone still reading, here is what I learned by applying quantum physics to the art of predicting school delays/cancellations:

I know nothing. Well, maybe not nothing but surely a lot less than I think I know. Quantum physics has been around for over a hundred years, and still they have only theories; no one has actually been able to prove anything. Similarly, after more than a decade into the public education of my children, I am left with only half-educated guesses about whether school will be open or closed tomorrow.

I never did. Quantum physics has thoroughly debunked my long-held trust in the universe, namely that everything can be explained. With objective reality thrown out the window, how am I supposed to apply logic to whether school will be open, delayed or closed tomorrow? I can’t. Instead, quantum mechanics tells me that tomorrow’s final outcome will be totally random. This also means that any previously correct predictions on my part were purely coincidental and not proof that I had cracked the code.

I never will. Okay, this is where quantum physics gets really wack. Assuming my ability to correctly predict tomorrow’s outcome adheres to the same properties of a sub-atomic particle, then I’m currently right whether school is open, closed or delayed across the entire space and time continuum, but only until the actual decision is announced, after which I will very clearly either be right or wrong. And since we’ve already established that these decisions are completely random, why bother even guessing?

I could go on and on but I don’t want to Bohr you (see what I did there??). I guess in the the end, not even quantum physics can help me predict whether tonight’s sub-zero wind chills will keep my children home from school tomorrow. So in parting, I leave you with a joke and the sincere hope that we all survive this frigid winter in one piece.

Q: Why did the sub-atomic particle say to the duck?
A: Quark, quark.

3 thoughts on “The Physics of School Closings

  1. Heisenberg has you on speed dial baby!
    As for tomorrow… I’m hoping for a delay. My particles seem to function best along that wave :)

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