Walk to school? Why, what a revolutionary idea

classSomebody vouchsafed an ‘interesting’ idea in the paper the other day: He suggested that for a host of reasons it might be a good idea for children to start walking to and from school instead of being driven by parents.

What a revolutionary and indeed retrograde comment. Children walk? Children who live more than a block from their classroom actually applying a little bit of ‘shank’s mare’ (as my granny used to call it)?

calvinIn all seriousness, I applaud the idea and I have been for years trying to get my head around why children are ferried back and forth. I mean, I know they are. I live a mere block away from an elementary school and I see the vehicles plying the roads to drop them off in the morning and then pick them up in the afternoon.

These are elementary kids from the neighborhood and I’ll bet none of them live more than a half-mile distant from the school.

In ‘my day’ (I find I say that a lot of late) we all walked (mainly dawdled as we were in no rush to arrive) we walked one-and-one-tenth mile to school and one-and-one-tenth mile from school each and every day regardless of weather. And since that was back in pre-climate change days we had (I like to think) almost incessant blizzards from September to June. But, we did it and I (and many of my peers) survived to tell the tale.

But wait, there’s more. As I look at an old class photo (the one shown is fourth grade, see if you can find me. The teacher, by the way, was a complete asshole) there ain’t a fat kid in the lot. We was too po’ to be fat. No, really, we ate OK. We actually ate pretty healthfully compared with today. It was just that we walked everywhere we wanted to go. And when school was done, we had ‘chores’ – really kids. Ask Mom and Dad what chores were – and then we just fooled around physically; played games; played sandlot sports; hiked,  rode our bikes far away sometimes. Once when I was about 12 a gang of us rode our bikes to the US border (about 25 miles distant) and we were chagrined when they wouldn’t let a bunch of 12-year-olds across. Bloody Yanks. So, we rode home again.

The point being, we didn’t loll about inside watching TV. It would be decades before video games were to show up – wanna play a game, play Monopoly. There was no texting and there was a party-line land-line phone. Our lives weren’t sedentary.

And, as we were kids we had no money so we didn’t gorge out on crap. We got ‘meals’ and sometimes a snack after school. “Have some celery with cheese, Junior, it’s good for you! And that’s it until supper. You want pop? What is it, your birthday?” So, hence the picture with the paucity of fat kids. Slim kids who walked to school.

Of course, some diligent parents drive their kids because they are of the belief that the streets are crawling with perverts and other evil people dead set on harming their youngsters. Well, there were perverts and evil people throughout history and that’s sort of called ‘life and its risks’. Read Tom Sawyer and know that way back Tom and Huck ran into some pretty evil dudes, including Huck’s drunken old man.

“Don’t talk to strangers,” we were warned, and that was about it. Oh, and “Don’t play with pointed sticks, you’ll put somebody’s eye out.” Never did know anybody who got his eye put out by a pointed stick.

And when school beckoned in its ghastly way, we walked.

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18 responses to “Walk to school? Why, what a revolutionary idea

  1. I think a lot of it has to do with the safety aspect as well as time constraints working parents are under. Parents are working longer hours and getting less sleep, and kids are suffering from the fallout.
    I never rode my bike 25 miles away, but I had a lot more freedom when I was younger. I remember scaring the figurative pants off myself when I and another girl walked through the woods behind some row houses where we were “never supposed to go alone”, and seeing a man walking through there.
    He probably wasn’t a pervert or even very freaky, and I don’t think I even saw his face. It didn’t matter: we ran like hell and truth be told, I never went into that part of the woods again. It was a strong deterrent.
    I see a lot of kids with their spare time organized up the wazoo; society isn’t giving kids the freedom to play anymore. And though I don’t have kids of my own, I find myself saying things like, “stay away from the road,” “don’t go too far,” “Don’t climb up so high”, “why aren’t you wearing your helmet?”.

    • Probably true about the safety thing, but I think parents get a little obsessive about it. In all the years we walked to and from school the only incident that caused us concern was the day we decided on the way home to throw rocks at a guy’s beehive. That was very silly and we ended up running the rest of the way home.

  2. Well, it’s a fact that kids don’t get any exercise anymore, like you we walked, we got an apple or a couple of cookies and a glass of milk as a snack and were shooed right back outside until dinner. I so wanted to curl up with my book!
    As for the perverts… there were as many (or as few) then as there are today, they simply weren’t mediatized the way everything is today. Whether this is good or bad, I don’t know, but being a kid today must be no fun, as SusieQ says, they’re organized up the wazoo and pretty much don’t seem to have time to be kids.

    • Yes, I agree about the obsessive ‘organizing’ of kids rather than letting them be just kids. You got cookies when you went home?? Well, maybe we did sometimes. And yes, there was a perv actually in the neighborhood and we knew the old fart was and we knew to avoid him.

  3. Oh, and I’m useless at these things, but I’ll take a guess: Top row, third from the right?

    • Now that I set you straight on that I’ll say I’m 2nd from left in the front row, the little nerd with the glasses. God, how I hated those glasses.

  4. When I lived walking distance to school and had had surgery, after the first day back, I made the trek on crutches, no easy task in 95 degree heat and humidity.

  5. I think a lot of parents drive their children to school because they want to protect them from pervs. Being a mother I understand their concern. I used to walk my daughter to and from school when she was young. It gave us both a time to connect and get in some exercise. I think it paid off, she is a personal trainer now and in amazing shape. With the arrival of computers I think a lot of pervs are now trolling for children on the internet, and perhaps that makes the streets safer. We need to get children more physically active, but we need to be their role models. If we are surfing the internet all the time it sends a strong message to our children. Great post, Ian.

    • Your point about the Internet and perverts is well taken, Debra and I honestly hadn’t thought of that in my rant. And you walked with your daughter, the operative word being ‘walked’ and, as you point out, it has paid off.

  6. I am sure perves existed…but equally sure that the availability of porn on the internet has allowed what might have been faint interest to burgeon into the wish for action.
    Still no reason why parents can’t instruct their kids not to accept lifts, etc. and just send them off to walk to school, preferably with friends.
    I had so much freedom….within limits set by parents as to who I was with – checked with their parents – time to return home, etc., I don’t envy kids today with over protective parents breathing down their necks. taking them to ‘activities’, running their lives….no wonder they go off the rails the minute they can.

    • Yes, Helen, you make the same good point that Debra did. But also as you say, it’s up to parents to make sure kids know the perils out there and then to ultimately liberate them.

  7. Today’s kids will never know the freedom we had, for sure, and yet somehow, most of us survived to become parents ourselves. And who turned today’s kids into the fearful, overprogrammed couch potatoes that they are? Well, we did. The parents who had all kinds of freedom as kids, the parents who were usually outside running around as kids. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

    • I think it’s hugely ironic, as you say. I wouldn’t have traded the freedom I had as a kid for the life of a contemporary child with all its strictures and organization.

  8. Another issue is that kids don’t necessarily go to the local school in their catchment area. We weren’t allow to go to any school we wished and as a result all our school mates were also neighbours. It was a rare time that I walked to school alone.

    • But, in the case of the local school I mention, the kids all live within virtually immediate walking distance. Otherwise, I know that isn’t always the case and your point is well taken.

  9. I know if they walked they would be healthier. When we were in elementary school we walked as a large group the 1/2 mile to school. Occasionally one of the mothers would join us.
    In middle school (jr. high) I used to walk the 3 miles each way to school with a few others.
    In high school we were bussed since the school was about 5 miles away across a busy street.
    As long as kids walk together in a group, they are safe. Mothers taking turns (or fathers) could walk with the children if they are worried about safety.
    For the health of their children, it would be good to get them walking!

    • Children probably know better how to protect themselves, if they walk in a group, than parents give them credit for. And the final points being walking not only is healthier, it is a first step on the way to some independence.

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