September 2009


Dangerous, Deficient Childhood.

I called Mom today.

As I often want to do, when I call her, I remind her of all the terrible things that happened to me during my childhood in Denver, trying to lay blame for everything wrong in my life at her feet.

Today was no different.

“Mom,” I started. “I can’t believe you let me do anything so dangerous; so stupid; so reckless while growing up!”

She knew. I could hear her starting to cry when I told her what I thought of my childhood.

“I know,” she sobbed into the phone, “I let you walk to school. I didn’t realize how dangerous and awful it was either.”

Thanks to an article, Why Can’t She Walk to School?, in Sunday’s New York Times, I learned that what I did as a child, is now viewed as dangerous and insane—even if school is as close as six houses.

Let me repeat that: Six Houses.

For the record, that previous paragraph: six words. We’re not talking about a great distance here, but apparently it’s a huge dangerous distance that will make school officials nervous—even when the parent has explicitly granted permission for the child to walk home that enormous distance.

The fact remains that I walked from home to school for nine years, from kindergarten through eight grade—and the only reason I didn’t continue that trajectory through high school was that it was actually far away: 4 miles, a distance unreasonable to walk when you need to arrive at 7:20.

There are a number of reasons I am disturbed and fascinated by the article:

  1. School districts have limited financial resources and running school buses is not cheap. In the opening example of the article, a young girl walks a block and a half to school, passing older children who are waiting for the school bus to the very same school. What sane school district would provide buses to children who live that close? It must be a really rich school district. Either that or it’s cutting both the music program and the arts program.
  2. In cases where children aren’t bused 1.5 blocks to school, parents drive them. I’m willing to bet that these parents are also “concerned” about the environment. What about walking the children to school? What kind of message is being ingrained into children when they are driven a block and a half?
  3. Childhood obesity is a serious issue in the United States. One would think any opportunity to get children moving, even if it’s only for six houses, would be encouraged.

Sometimes driving kids to school or making them take school buses makes sense: say in genuinely dangerous neighborhoods, or when there’s an actual substantial distance involved, but most of the examples cited in the article are in the suburbs.

I might note that here in my little corner of Germany, I see lots of children walking to school every morning—some with parents, many independently.

Children need to learn independence; protecting them inside some insane security blanket where they’re never out of sight only retards their growth.

Which, coincidentally, if you replace the “s” with “ed” probably describes the parents of these poor kids.

via PapaScott (Shared Feed)

15 comments to Dangerous, Deficient Childhood.

  • I went to the same school for twelve years. The last four of those years, we lived close enough that my sister and I could walk….and we did. It was about a mile, maybe a little more, but we thought nothing of it. Nor did any of the others who made the same trek each school day and back in the afternoon. And you’re so right about the obesity problem, though walking won’t aid much if they continue to eat the same stuff in the same amounts.

  • scatterlined

    Another point strikes me on the way American and European children get to school. Some places the kids take public transportation, be it train, tram or bus. We took a public bus in Norway once that was clearly timed for the school children. I was quite surprised the first time I noticed this, but it makes obvious sense.

  • Wow…just wow…I walked to and from school every day in elementary school (from about 2nd to 6th grade). It was a whole whopping block away. My parents weren’t worried. Sometimes my best friend missed the bus so that she could walk home with me. Then, from grades 7-10, I was driven and picked up by my mother since that school was 5 miles away. But geez…for a whole block and a half, having to take the school bus. You’ve definitely hit it on the head with childhood obesity and that this probably (ok, most likely) is a factor. Here, I see kids going to school all by themselves…and they have to cross a major street! Oh my. Could you imagine the uproar of the parent that would let their kid walk to school alone if they had to cross a major intersection?

  • koko

    Due to moving around some I attended two different schools in elementary. The first the babysitter was situated directly across the street from the school. However, the cross guard was about 5 or 6 houses up so I always walked up there to go to school. While in third grade a local park near the school acquired a child molester. So kids who walked past the park now had an adult with them. Also there was a police officer stationed at the park during school start and close to keep the weirdo away. Soon, after they caught the guy everything went back to normal.

    I tried walking to school once at my new elementary school since I had missed the bus. I’m guessing it was about 2 miles away. I got in trouble for that one…as I had to cross a highway.

    But in middle school and high school I walked. It was maybe a half a mile to get to school probably less. There was a bus, but I got picked on when I rode the bus. Walking was much more fun for me. I got home before most of the kids who rode the bus. Had there been bike racks I think I would have preferred to ride my bike.

    Today I see kids that aren’t allowed to do anything. Must play in their yard only, can’t ride the bus (soccer mum to the rescue), can’t ride their bikes… It’s really sad. These kids will be adults one day and will be too afraid to walk to their classes on a college campus or be too large to do so. My poor neighbor kids aren’t allowed to bike past the stop sign which is about three peddles from driveway to stop sign. Now on Tuesdays I go on rides with them around the neighborhood so they can practice some thinking skills past the stop sign. *sigh*

  • I amazed anyone born before 1980 managed to survive.

    When we rode bikes, we fell off them without benefit of helmets, elbow or knee pads. When we scraped our knee or whatever, we learned not to do that again.

    I rode my bike to school (about 2 miles), the school provided a rack in the middle of the campus (avoids bike theft) and we locked them there. The end of day bell rang, we went out and got on our bikes and rode home.

    We didn’t clean *everything* and disinfect it, either. This allowed our bodies to fight off ho-hum diseases because our immune systems knew how to deal with it. Now everything is sanitized and sterilized to the point when a child catches a cold it can kill them.


  • Suffering Christ.

    Another to- and from-school walker here. My folks lived too far from school and my mom needed to be at work earlier than school started, so I (and all my cousins) got dropped at Mema’s to have breakfast together and walk the whopping 10-15 minutes to school. Regardless of weather.

    Hence, I know how to pick the best path down an ice-encrusted hill and make a rain poncho out of garbage bag.

  • It was the same for me… From primary school on, I either walked, biked or took public transport only getting a lift when it was really bad weather and my sister and I put our doe eyed look on (it still melts my mother’s heart!)

    Primary school was maybe 300m away from home and then about 1km after we moved and by the time I was in senior school, I was taking a bus, a tram and a train to travel the 70km to school (it was near Leiden in the Netherlands and we lived in the centre of the Netherlands near Utrecht).

    Strangely, my sister and I survived this horrible treatment!

  • I amazed anyone born before 1980 managed to survive.
    Cynical Queer

    I second that opinion. My mom not only let me walk to elementary school (all of 7 count them – seven houses), but we also were allowed to play around the school whenever we wanted. Often I would ride my bicycle (sans helmet and pads) to and from school as well even though there was no place to lock it up. (no one would steal it… everyone would know who did it and give the kid shit)

    We lived on a large (for Pennsylvania) mountain area between two ski resorts. You might guess that we got lots of snow. I remember very well taking the track to school when I couldn’t see over the edges of the snow which had been dug out for the walking path behind the houses.

    Oh, and as for letting your kids out to make their own decisions. At the ripe old age of 8 I was allowed to bicycle down our little hill to see my friends in a neighboring village. The only possibility was down a two-lane highway with cars and coal trucks allowed to go 55mph. Ahem. And I lived to tell the tale.

    And yeah… my brother and I were both allowed to ride motorcycles by the age of 12… With a helmet this time. My domain in the summer was expanded fourfold. We used to climb coal piles for fun, the steeper the better. I had to ditch many a bike right before the front tire took to the air. Our favorite past time was seeing how much coal you could make fall down the hill as you came down.

    I took lots of tumbles and learned how to get right back up and get on the bike… kinda like life. I pity the kids whose only sense of adventure is given to them by a video game.

  • We used to get up at 4:30 in the morning to chop wood to make the fire for the stove so we’d be able to have hot chocolate and porridge at breakfast before our mother shoved us out the door before light in sub-zero weather so we’d make it over the 5,500-foot mountain pass to the neighbouring village in time for school to start at nine. We were all huddled together on one side of the classroom, all eight grades of us, because there was a gaping hole in the floor caused by a boulder that had crashed through from a nearby cliff and at recess and lunch we had to shovel snow from what was left of the roof. On the way home we sometimes took a shortcut, but had to make sure to time it right on one stretch so that we wouldn’t be swept away by avalanches.

    And you try to tell the young people today that, and they won’t believe you.

  • Michele J

    I can relate. My parents let me walk alone to the bus stop about 3/4 of a mile away in rural Idaho when there was snow, ice, blizzards – you name it. I rode my bike 3 miles to my friend’s house almost every summer day on a country road with a 50 mph speed limit. I’d ride my Sears 10-speed 6 miles into town to spend $2 in quarters at Pojo’s video arcade and then head home again. All without applying sunscreen even!

    In retrospect, what really amazes me is the driving thing. I did quite a bit of driving on our small farm when I was 8 to 12, but in Idaho at the time you could get a real license at the age of 14 (don’t know what they were thinking; apparently it’s 16 now). My folks clearly had nerves of steel, because they let me take the car, alone, pretty much any time I wanted. Mostly it involved getting sodas at Ken’s Drive-In or spending the day at the local waterslide park.
    They weren’t completely crazy though. My Dad had just finished restoring a vintage 1965 Mustang with a souped-up new engine right around the time I got my license. That car was so bitchin’. I desperately wanted to drive it, and it seemed so obvious as the extra car in the household. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and now I have to admit that a vehicle with 300+ horsepower would have been the wrong choice for a 14-yr-old, no matter how level-headed.

    P.S. If only they’d let my fly that airplane around the world!

  • Sheesh. In elementary school my two younger brothers and I walked every day, 25 minutes each way through the dark and scary woods, rain or shine. Seriously. When I switched schools for 6th and 7th grade I took a public bus. For grades 8 – 12 it was the public bus as well, 1 1/2 hours each way to high school. It’s a wonder I’m still alive, I guess.

    My kids have always walked or bussed it to school and only get driven on VERY rare occasions. But I do actually see a whole lot of German parents driving their kids everywhere when the kids should be walking or learning to use public transportation so it’s not just a US problem.

  • starman1695 – It seems reasonable to me to walk a mile or so to school. Maybe not for kindergartners, but for older kids… sure!

    scatterlined – Strangely, to defend Denver for a second, there were buses timed for high school service when I was of school age.

    Jentry – My high school was about 4 miles away and I took public transit. It wasn’t between our house and my Father’s work, and my mother was more interested in sleeping than driving.

    koko – I imagine some of it has to do with neighborhood design–or is it parental paranoia for fear the kids would go too far away?

    Cynical Queer – I think we’re both doomed, doomed to spend an eternity in hospital. Disease needs antibiotics!

    Sarah – Can you give me tips for going down an ice encrusted hill? There wasn’t one between one and my school, but occasionally there is one between the train station and my office… I hate those mornings!

    Emily – a 70km commute to school is impressive! What a long way.

    Snooker – What an awesome childhood you had! As for video games – I really don’t get them. I think I’m defective on that count.

    Ian – Canadians understand hardship. Americans are wimps. And I’m sorry to hear about the lack of butter and sour cream. 😉

    Harvey Morrell – Excellent.

    Michele J – Awesome! I think some states still have exemptions for farm work where people as young as 14 can drive on farms. Or maybe that ended a few years back. I remember it being true when I was in high school.

    disenchanted – don’t forget sailing around the world.

    christina – a 25 minute walk is nothing. My parents always refused to drive me places unless it really was far away.