Great piece from the Scientific American Blog on the wonderful Ms. Frizzle of The Magic School Bus.
In the weeks since that conversation I have been trying to push past the nostalgia and look at the show from the perspective of an adult and a science communicator. And as many books or articles as I have read about the power of storytelling, I have found no more compelling argument than my own experience scrolling through the episode list for a show I had not watched in 20 years. I don’t just remember the “Gets Lost in Space” episode, I can almost see the moment when Janet refuses to get back in the bus without all of the proof she collected from other planets throughout their trip. I can hear Phoebe’s voice saying “at my old school.” I can mentally watch Ms. Frizzle’s face turn red while rowing and holding her breath during her competition against the gym teacher. Frictionless baseball can unfailingly make me smile. I remember the stories.
And I remember that, even though Ms. Frizzle may have been my hero, she was almost never the hero of the day. Looking back, I am amazed at how much she is part of an ensemble. Her role is often to be, in the best possible sense, an enabler. If the kids in her class come up with an idea, she throws herself in with them. She trusts them to make decisions. She doesn’t just observe or instruct. Her tagline doesn’t even include the word science, instead telling her students to, “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” She happily embraces that her fate is tied to theirs. And when their decisions end up with her getting lost in space or trapped inside a physics book, she trusts them to come to the rescue. That provides the kids with agency, responsibility, and the ability to take actions that really matter.
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