Weather, time, and their mood permitting, our boys have frequently gotten themselves to school under their own steam.  Walking, biking, even longboarding have been their favored methods.

In the past, I received calls from aghast neighbors reporting such sightings as “I noticed Ian walking to elementary school – do you realize a construction project has started on Pool Lane?” 

Me:  “Yes, and…?”

Neighbor:  “Well, you don’t know who those workers are!  What if one of them is a child-snatcher?”

Me:  “I have not run any background checks on the workers.  We’ll take a chance that they are not perverts, thank you.  Come on, what are the odds?”

That really is the question:  what are the odds?  Personally, I think all Americans should be required to take a course in statistics.  Everyone in this neurotic nation needs to learn about probabilities.  As an added bonus, such mandated education might cut down on the gambling addiction sweeping our country as well.

So without further ado, here is a fabulous piece by Lenore Skenazy, who first gained notoriety when she wrote about letting her 9-year-old ride the NYC subway alone.  

Whatever Happened to Walking to School? 

by Lenore Skenazy

If you think the first week of September means kids skipping off to school, you might want to check your calendar—for the century. The way you got to school isn’t the way they do.

Take the bus. Sure, about 40% of kids still ride the cheery yellow chugger, but in many towns it doesn’t stop only at the bus stops anymore. It stops at each child’s house.

Often, the kids aren’t waiting outside to get on. They are waiting in their parents’ cars—cars the parents drove from the garage to the sidewalk so their children would be climate-controlled and safe from the predators so prevalent on suburban driveways.  (NOTE FROM JENNIFER – We actaully see this happen in our town.  After the bus comes, the mom backs up the driveway in her gas-hogging SUV).

Those of us who remember using our own legs for transit now run the risk of sounding Abe Lincolnesque. Today, only about one in 10 kids walks to school, says Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School.

The shift is so profound that the language itself has changed. “Arrival” and “dismissal” have become “drop-off” and “pick-up” because an adult is almost always involved—even when it doesn’t make sense.

“When we first moved to town we found a house three blocks from the school,” says Annie Anderson, a mom in Corpus Christi, Texas. “The day before school started a lady knocked on my door and asked if I’d like to join the carpool.”

“Carpool to where?” Ms. Anderson asked. “She proceeded to explain that not only would I pick up her kid and others every morning of my assigned week, but I would need to pick up their ‘carpool seats’ before Monday and pass them to the next parent on Friday.” Ms. Anderson declined and allowed her second-grader to walk instead. He beat the car every day.

Driving makes sense if the bus takes forever, or if school is on the way to work. But too often drop-off in the morning means snarls and traffic, and afternoon pick-up has become the evacuation of Saigon. At schools around the country, here’s how it works:

First, the “car kids” are herded into the gym. “The guards make sure all children sit still and do not move or speak during the process,” reports a dad in Tennessee. Outside, “People get there 45 minutes early to get a spot. And the scary thing is, most of the kids live within biking distance,” says Kim Meyer, a mom in Greensboro, N.C.

When the bell finally rings, the first car races into the pick-up spot, whereupon the car-line monitor barks into a walkie-talkie: “Devin’s mom is here!”

Devin is grabbed from the gym, escorted to the sidewalk and hustled into the car as if under enemy fire. His mom peels out and the next car pulls up. “Sydney’s mom is here!”

Kerry Buss, a curriculum developer in Fairfax County, Va., says her son’s school does this, “And this is the same school that took out the bike racks to discourage kids from biking.” It’s also the school her husband attended as a child. Back then, “he and his sister walked to school like every other kid in the neighborhood. It was unheard of that there’d be a bus, much less a car line.”

How did we get to this point? How did we forget that it’s just a walk to school?

Simple. We bought the line that good parenting is the same as over-parenting. That the more we could do for our children, the better. We forgot the joy of scuffing down the street when we were young, crunching leaves, picking up seeds, and decided we’d do it all for our kids, independence be damned!

Except independence is good. Children who walk to school are healthier, for obvious reasons. New studies suggest they may do better academically, too. “You can see the difference in the kids who walk or bike,” says Jerry Flynn, principal of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic school in Indianapolis that has been encouraging parents to stop driving their kids. “They’re bright, chatty, ready to go.”

And one day, they might even get to tell their own kids something more than: “When I was your age, I walked 10 feet to the SUV—and it was uphill both ways.”

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