The Ms Frizzles are doing it right
I lost my front teeth to a Ms Frizzle.
As a six-year old sitting crossed legged in a circle of other grade-ones on hard carpet, I once a week engaged in science class.
I don’t remember much of these classes. Only that the teacher was an eccentric senior with a grey dandelion fluff of hair. She would jump and skip around the room, throwing her arms out in big gestures as she passionately explained the natural world of science to us.
I probably owe most of my basic science understanding to her. The earth goes around the sun. Plants eat the sun and we eat the plants and the animals that eat the plants. Or maybe I learnt that from The Lion King. Either way I don’t remember any particular words coming from her mouth and into my brain about anything to do with science
Except for one day, when in class, as we were sitting cross legged on the hard carpet, she passed around my teeth.
I was going through that teeth falling out stage, that both delights children and horrifies any adult witness to it. You first feel an ache, then before you know it you can twist a tooth all the way round with your tongue. It was in this particular science class I was doing such a thing. Half listening whilst I flicked my two bottom front teeth back and forth, marvelling at the control I had over my body. It was then that I tasted the faint metallic taste of blood and plop, two tiny teeth feel into my lap.
Unlike most adults who cringed away from this moment, Ms I-can’t-remember-her-name-I’m-a-terrible-person-so-lets-call-her-Ms-Frizzle scurried over in excitement, plucking the prize from my outstretched hand and presenting them to the class.
“You see kids, the body produces special chemicals that dissolves the tooth from the root, so that a larger tooth can replace it.”
Ms Frizzle handed the teeth back to mum at the end of the day, explaining that the wonder of the human body had taken over her class through the spitting out of my teeth. I was mortified but also thrilled by this. I had actually seen science, not just heard about it. And I could relate it to my life, my experiences.
Despite this early science thrill, my vocation into science didn’t begin until seventeen years later. This seems odd seeing as this class one school-day afternoon obviously left an impression on me.
I certainly possessed a curiosity for the natural world, gluing myself to the screen every week when my family settled down to watch another David Attenborough epic. Maybe I fell through the gap between curiosity and confidence, which is sometimes a wide one.
The gap was widened for me in a lot of ways that are not unique; terrible math scores, underfunded public schooling, disadvantaged home life and the wider, on-going issue of a lack of female role models in STEM. But maybe the biggest wedge in the gap is that loss of wonder in learning about how and why teeth fall out.
Somewhere along the educational road science became about facts and memorising and tests. It became a vocation for smart people. Not for curious people.
With this realisation, we cannot undervalue the combination of a good education and inspiring teachers beating the drum of science. There are Ms Frizzles out there, weirding out many but inspiring some. It’s these trail blazers that hold out little malleable minds in their hands. Even though it took me seventeen years to get here, maybe I wouldn’t have got here at all without her.