Hop on the Hegemonic School Bus Essay

Submitted By John-Lampasi
Words: 1727
Pages: 7

Hop on the Hegemonic School Bus: More Education Than Kids Bargain For In much the same way the flickering of a playful gleam, kindled by dusk’s command, beguiles the swarms of mosquitoes fated for the grim plunge into sloughs of citronella oil, the flashes and blares emanating from the screens hosting Saturday morning cartoons turn eager minds to goop. In accordance with its public duty, PBS stepped in with a response to the pandemic: to devise a children’s program that sparks interest in science. It sought to inject a particular kind of program - one that suspends education within a marketable solvent - into the banal, entertainment-saturated intravenous that grafts itself so securely to children audiences. Thus, The Magic School Bus features the eccentric Ms. Frizzle, grand marshal of her elementary class’ exciting, out-of-this-world field trips that are both fun and educational. In a way that seems to preclude criticism, acclaim for the show affixes a stamp of glowing approval for the show’s intention and success alone. Ms. Frizzle relates to her students brilliantly; she shares in their insatiable thirst for fun. Fans see her as a powerful female voice. Finally, the classmates illustrate a spectrum of racial diversity, and, after all, School Bus is aired on the trustworthy PBS. Despite the praise, to learn through entertainment is a far cry from finding pleasure in learning, in doing so for its inherent merits. Real criticism of School Bus should not lack entirely for just this reason. For example, the show may not be as educational as many wish it were. The scientific subject matter is often esoteric or too hard to follow for many children. The excitement provided by the show can distract or detract from the science that is sprinkled in between the noise, and other, often less-stimulating shows offer better education quality. Most important, School Bus’ plot development often downplays the importance of learning, and instead encourages acceptance of normative social values, spoiling the merits of a decent education. In School Bus, class conflict undermines education ideals. A reading informed by social class tension reveals how one episode in particular, “Wet All Over,” subverts and manipulates the purpose of education, as well as oppresses certain social groups under its “educational” guise. Race, gender, and sexuality only magnify this social inequality and its consequences for youth. Surely, latent social messages can be more significant than a single geology lesson. “Wet All Over” is a standard episode in which Ms. Frizzle ditches the classroom for a wild adventure, despite protest from the weary, highly intelligent student, Arnold. Arnold wants to show off his report on the water cycle and the display he built with it. Instead, the class embarks on a trip that physically transforms them into water-creatures, allowing them to fly among clouds and flow through streams. The class blames Arnold, traumatized already by the dangerous trip, for misplacing the keys to the bus. Unable to transform back to normal without them, Arnold must lead the class back to safety by applying his understanding of the water cycle to the predicament. The dominant meaning is clear: knowledge saves the day, and Arnold should really lighten up if he is to put his smarts to use. Broken down in a class-based reading, the episode perverts educational standards by forcing Arnold’s acquiescence to his social environment. At the top, Ms. Frizzle looms as the only authority, perching over the class and the audience as well. She has no superior, not even another adult character to counter her unorthodox ways – only Arnold. When Ms. Frizzle enters the classroom, she bursts from the closet, surfing atop a wave of water. A zoomed-in pedestal-up shot highlights the flattering contours of Ms. Frizzle’s form-fitting wetsuit, of which she promptly strips to reveal her slightly more frumpy floral dress. From the closet imagery to her outfit, the…