According to this story, a California school district currently bars students from walking or riding their bikes to elementary school or middle school. Although the news article is not entirely clear, it appears that the school district decided that the road that kids would take to get to school was just too busy and, therefore, dangerous. This kind of news story is pathetic — although not particularly surprising in this era of paternalistic government — because it shows how weak, lazy, and risk-averse America has become. And we wonder why we have a problem with child obesity!
In the early 1960s, when I first started going to school in Akron, Ohio, UJ and I walked to school every day, from our house on Orlando Avenue to Rankin Elementary School on Storer Avenue. We would turn right out the front door and walk to the end of the block, turn left on Delia Avenue, then walk 11 blocks down Delia Avenue to Storer, where we turned right for a few blocks and then crossed the street to Rankin. We walked that route rain or shine, snow or sleet. On some days Mom would tell us that we were to go to Gramma and Grampa Neal’s house for lunch and we would walk the six blocks from Rankin to their home on Dorchester Road over the lunch period; on other days we were to go to Gramma and Grampa Webner’s home and we would walk the six blocks from Rankin to their house on Emma Avenue.
Perhaps Mom worried about us as we took our walks, but I doubt it. Walking to school was just an accepted part of the day; it was something that everybody did. For a kid, too, it was a time of freedom and high adventure to be savored. You were on your own.
You hustled on the way to school to make sure you weren’t tardy, but the walk home was a bit more leisurely. There would be interesting places to examine, and things to do. On the route back home from Rankin, for example, there was a triangular “island” in the middle of an intersection, and at each corner of the island there was a large buckeye tree. UJ and I called it “Buckeye Island,” and on the way home on a crisp fall day we might stop to see if buckeyes had fallen. We would try to pry open their tough and spiny outer covering and see if we could find a nut or two worth polishing to a brilliant dark shine.
Sometimes, as we gathered our nuts, older bullies would come up and take the best nuts from us, and we would have to get out of there. But, really, what did we care? They were just nuts. The important thing was that we were on our own, making our own decisions, and the prospect of bullies just heightened the sense of excitement and fun.
Why would any school district want to deprive kids of that kind of experience? Why would any parents be so protective that they wouldn’t want their children to feel that sense of freedom? Why wouldn’t any community demand an environment where their children could walk to school without fear of anything more threatening than a fifth-grade bully?