Why can’t kids walk alone anymore?

I just overheard a segment on my local news station about parking around schools. Parents were complaining that they have to arrive “twenty minutes before school” to find a parking spot to drop off their children, and that people often have to resort to double parking or blocking driveways even with their early arrival.

The inanity of this situation is enormous. Why is it necessary for parents to drop their children off at school? Aren’t schools situated in neighbourhoods such that kids are either close enough to walk, or receive busing? Certainly, that’s how school boards justify their busing distances: students living within a certain range deemed walkable for their age don’t receive busing, while those who live further do.

Given that children who live far enough from the school to walk should receive busing, it follows that the ones who are being dropped off at school in the mornings live within the “walkable” boundaries for the school. (Either that, or their parents insist on driving them even if they could ride the bus, which is ridiculous.) The solution to all these parents jostling for parking spots in the morning seems obvious, then: the kids should be walking to school.

Any suggestions to the effect that children might walk anyplace on their own quickly raise cries of opposition, people who argue that the world is too dangerous for kids to walk unaccompanied. Of course, this is hyper-sensationalized BS. But, it holds sway over our public consciousness. One only needs to look at the recent case of the Meitivs, Maryland parents who are being investigated for neglect after letting their children walk the one mile home from a nearby park, to see just how little independence our society tolerates in our kids. Or, just how little faith we have in the rest of the world.

This all brings to mind Hanna Rosin’s excellent piece about the death of childhood independence, which provides support for all the claims that the world is becoming safer and safer, while we continue to tell ourselves that it’s more and more dangerous. She goes on to explain the detrimental effects of this delusion upon childhood development, arguing that the loss of opportunities for fostering independence in kids is a major one which must be reversed.

Stories like the one on the news tonight frustrate me, because they remind me of just how far we’ve gone in our hyper-sensationalized culture of fear. The parents in the news story are driving their kids to school twenty minutes early just so they can secure a parking spot while doing so. Twenty minutes is a good amount of time: even at the slow walking pace of three kilometres per hour, that allows a kid to cover one kilometre—approximately the busing threshold for elementary and middle school age children. Kids could walk to school in that time and arrive in time for class, allowing morning schedules at home to be shifted later to allow for more sleep.

Even if parents won’t overlook the ridiculousness of their refusal to allow kids to walk (and choose to deny them the independence that such solo walking habits could breed), nothing is preventing them from doing the walk with the kids themselves! Driving the kids to school does nothing but breed laziness and inactivity in the children, and it further enforces the use of a transportation type which we desperately need to use less of.

If parents cry out that they’re too busy to do the walk with their kids, and that they thus rely on the car as the only reasonable alternative, they ought to get together with other parents in their area and see about alternating walking supervision for a larger group of local kids. Or they could even consider allowing the large group to walk together, unsupervised—there’s safety in numbers, after all.

Solutions to this silly parking problem exist, and they’re not in the form of better parking lots.

Of course, this all relies on the basic assumption that we can look past our natural culture of fear. It also assumes that we can trust our local community, rising above our perceived individual superiority and putting a little faith in those around us. Though there is a clear way, there seems to be very little will.

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