A recent piece on a local news station depicted the supposed problem of “milky” water coming from a water fountain at a local high school.
Indeed, a semi-viral video was taken that shows what appears to be the suspect water with some kind of white substance, flowing into someone’s receiving hands.
“This is what y’all are drinking?” was the phrase embedded in the video.
What could it be?
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Anyone that has lived any amount of time in this city knows that what the students were actually looking at was a situation where tiny bubbles are released when the pressure or temperature changes inside a water system, not unlike what happens when a bottle of soda is opened. It is the public tap water version of carbonation.
Those billions of tiny bubbles, in the right lighting, make the water appear to temporarily look whitish.
The reporter then went on to ask students if the taste of the water was different (it wasn’t) and, to his credit, even linked to a US Geological Survey webpage that explained the phenomenon, which occurs so often in El Paso that it can’t be considered phenomenal.
However, to students who grow up with prepackaged water from a plastic bottle, the appearance of anything that is not “perfect” must mean something nefarious is happening. (All bananas must be yellow, all tomatoes must be red, and anything off the norm must be bad is what these students (and reporter) are saying here and what they have been taught by society to accept as truth.)
Conclusion of the story: It wasn’t water laced with Round Up, milk, or some nefarious carcinogen. It was tiny, harmless, bubbles.
After thinking about that piece for a while, it occurred to me that while this was a non-story that somehow ended up on the air, the reporter did not ask the students any basic questions, did not have the person that created the video on air, did not look critically at the video itself (does this happen anywhere else), and had to take a “something must be wrong” attitude in order to even do the story.
Why didn’t the reporter ask for a sample of the suspect water?
Why wouldn’t the student who created the video want to provide further evidence?
Non-critical reporting is not taught in journalism, but seems to be par for the course in El Chuco.
Concurrently, the students that created the video demonstrated a total lack of critical thinking. Did the water look like that after 10 seconds? 20 seconds? Half a minute?
Consider that this event took place at a high school. High schools have science departments, including chemistry classes. Most modern high schools have equipment for testing water, some even equipped with sensors that can detect dissolved and precipitate matter in water.
Why didn’t these students think to first take a sample of the water to one of the Chemistry teachers at the campus? There are 22 science teachers at the campus, including AP Chemistry.
Surely one teacher could have easily given the students a beaker, taken a sample, and tested it, or better yet, have the students test it. If there was no problem, case dismissed. If they found an irregularity, THEN report it to the campus administration. None of that seems to have been done in this case.
Every moment is a teaching moment if we make it so or teach students that way.
Probably, teachers weren’t even aware of the student concerns in the first place, which bring to mind the question “Why aren’t students trained to seek ways to answer their questions first?” That is what the scientific method is all about.
In this case, these particular students did not seem to remember a single lesson taught on problem solving.
Students, who are always accused by adults of spending too much time on the internet, apparently spent no time looking up what might have caused “milky water” in the first place.
A simple Google search on “What causes water to look milky?” brings up hundreds of websites in less than a second.
Why wasn’t this done by the students? Why didn’t the report ask them?
To me, this is a sad commentary on the critical need to teach students basic problem solving, not about “milky water” at one high school.
Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.
Feel free to leave a comment. Read his previous columns here.