Freeing Ms. Frizzle

Justin Lockamy Contributing columnist

October 23, 2013

My son loves the children’s program “The Magic School Bus.” He’s too young to grasp the scientific concepts that the show explores, but he’s not too young to grasp the show’s enthusiasm.

I think he responds most to Ms. Frizzle – the plucky, kind, and curious school teacher who leads the class on exciting field trips in the magical bus. One of her catchphrases is, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!” This is the toddler’s philosophy of living spoken by a middle-aged woman.

Thinking back, there were a few Ms. Frizzles who taught me along the way. They conducted class with an infectious joy and could convince my classmates to do things they’d likely be too embarrassed to do in front of other children. What Ms Frizzles did you meet on your path?

Is it just me, or have the number of Ms. Frizzle’s in public school diminished over time? Where are they going, and why? Ms. Frizzles aren’t an endangered species — they are more like political dissidents quietly avoiding exposure in a totalitarian regime.

But why are they dissidents in the first place? Perhaps, as a society, we no longer care for the “take chances, make mistakes” philosophy of Ms. Frizzle. It doesn’t jive well with the dictates of an industrialized and data-obsessed education system. If a worker fails to quickly assemble a widget, the assembly line shuts down; if enough students aren’t proficient in math, then state and federal funds to the school are reduced.

Sadly, we don’t value the Ms. Frizzles of the world anymore. We don’t give them the time or space required to encourage students to take chances and make mistakes and learn exponentially. The product of learning matters more than the process of learning — we’d rather give a man a fish than teach a man to fish.

When knowledge is a commodity, meaning is lost. When we care more about the output of a person instead of what we put into a person, we lose sight of our shared humanity. And when we lose sight of our humanity, it becomes too easy to justify inhumane behavior.

This is the true power of the Ms. Frizzles in our society. They keep us focused on our shared humanity; they encourage us to take risks and explore things that might otherwise scare us. And whether we’re exploring the stars or the human digestive system, they guarantee we’ll have a good time. This is civilization’s saving grace.

Let’s unleash the creativity, compassion, and fearlessness of the Ms. Frizzles hiding in our midst. By doing so, we’ll demonstrate that we value not only facts, but the connections between them as well.