As a child, there was one thing that could drag me out of bed a whole hour early before the inevitable race out the front door to school: The Magic School Bus.
I’m sure you’re wondering what an animated children’s show has to do with marine science. But in the same vein as the recent resurgence of popularity of resident blogger Kelsey’s favorite scientist Bill Nye, and the overwhelming success of Reading Rainbow and Levar Burton’s new Kickstarter, it is clear that there were certain early elements of education-cleverly-disguised-as-entertainment that have molded our minds and affected our futures in science and schooling. They were obviously so monumental to our formation and effective in their dual goals of providing ‘edutainment’ that even as adults, we recognize their value and want to pass them on to the next generation. (But I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t going to watch the hell out of this as soon as it starts streaming.)
We’ve talked a lot here at UNdertheC about science communication. After all, that’s the main purpose of this blog. But it’s geared, for reasons of simplicity, toward our peers. We focus on speaking plainly about scientific ventures, so that you don’t need a degree in particle physics to understand the article. But it’s nevertheless biased, for example, towards people that can read.
What about the children interested in science who want more outside of the constrictive environment of public schooling? What about the kids with ceaseless questions about our world and the way it works that end up eliciting groans from their parents and teachers? “Why is the sky blue? Why do I have a belly button? Why doesn’t money grow on trees?” There was nothing in my classroom that was quite as entrancing as Ms. Frizzle and Co. landing on each of our planets in succession, and that was probably the only reason I remembered the order of them all, as those handy mnemonics never really stuck with me. I think we can all agree that most kids, whether they love the Magic School Bus or simply tolerate it, would find it a little more fun than reading out of a textbook.
It’s interesting to note that as far as trying to ‘recruit’ kids (and especially recently, women and minorities) to science, the job is basically done for us. Children have a natural ability and drive to ask questions, to use empirical reasoning, and overall, to learn. Couple that with some of the tantalizing topics of astronomy, physics, and ecology, and you’ve got a stellar recipe for scientific drive whose inertia would carry said child well into maturation. (If you stayed with me through all three of those shameless science entendres, bully for you.)
I am unashamedly excited for return of a few of my favorite childhood entertainment materials, and not just for my own enjoyment. Education is a hard job, even for the best teachers, even for the best scientists. If there is something out there that will make it easier, more effective, and more efficient, I say, in the words of the notorious Friz, we should “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”