The doors parted at the Harris Teeter on Central Avenue, and she bounded into the store. As I peered over my self-checkout register, I saw her blue dress, adorned with stars and planets. Upon noticing the green lizard perched on her shoulder, I nearly double-scanned my soy milk.
“Ms. Frizzle!” I yelled – completely involuntarily. She threw a mischievous smile over her shoulder and disappeared down the produce aisle.
My Halloween spotting of the beloved teacher from our daughter’s favorite TV show, The Magic School Bus, had me feeling a mix of emotions – amusement, gratitude, intimidation, aspiration.
Intimidation? Aspiration? Well, yeah. I’m a self-professed Helicopter Dad. It’s a part of me that I find unhealthy, embarrassing, and have yet to find a way to get in check. So anytime my wife and I take in an episode of TMSB with our daughter, I find myself watching The Frizz’s modus operandi in awe.
The way she enthusiastically herds her students into every unsafe situation imaginable. The way she sends kids careening into wild new worlds, confident they have what it takes to navigate any challenge, learn on the fly, and come back alive.
The way she’ll willingly throw unsuspecting third graders onto a school bus-turned-colonoscope just so they can experience the digestion of Arnold’s lunch firsthand.
If we want more adventure injected into the learning journeys of our kids, many of us simply need to work on getting out of their way. Whoa there, not ready. Let’s start slower – by acknowledging the potential of our public schools to serve as exciting “life labs.”
Unfortunately, not everyone does. In fact, my register rendezvous with The Frizz also reminded me of the most terrifying costume I saw this year. It was actually another Ms. Frizzle, only this one being worn by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at the 2017 White House Halloween celebration. Because, look, Ms. Frizzle is an adored public school teacher, while Ms. DeVos has been an outspoken advocate for increasing school vouchers to subsidize moving kids to private, charter, or home school. She never attended public school, and none of her four children did, either. Hence, I wish I could shrink down my Volkswagen Passat and fly into the DeVos brain to figure out what she was thinking with that little get-up.
Plus, Ms. Frizzle has a background in education.
Maybe this dad can make some headway on finally crash-landing his dysfunctional helicopter by first celebrating any teachers, administrators and board members who are committed to “letting the Frizz out.” Let’s encourage them to stoke our kids’ devil-may-care curiosity and lead the way from there. But frustratingly, our kids are getting Frizz-blocked by the standardized testing requirements being placed on them. I’m certain many of our teachers want to unleash their inner Frizz but are feeling hamstrung by the system.
I fantasize about a day when our schools begin to value reckless abandon over rigid assessment. Then, when we see our brave, emboldened kids step off the bus, we’ll be even more inspired to keep the adventure going at home and everywhere else.
Truth is, I don’t just want more adventure in our classrooms; I want more Real Frizz in my life. I Wanna Be Like Frizz. I want to jump at chances to send my daughter running headlong into the solar systems, Jurassic Parks and erupting volcanoes of life. Let her wander into labyrinths and find her way out. Get hurt and heal. Get petrified and prevail.
We need fewer Helicopter Parents like yours truly. Which means the immortal words of Ms. Frizzle are also meant for us: “Time to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.”