Right after Monday’s closure of the bridge to protect students from getting into a police scene, we hear about a man in a green Ford Taurus attempting to talk a girl into his car. While this is, at best, uncomfortable, it’s not any reason to stop walking to or from school.
Let’s think about the other hundreds of days when the skies were blue, the temperature was pleasant…and hundreds of vehicles waited in line to drop the children at the school doorway to make sure they were safe. Or pick them up in the same spot.
Teaching children to be afraid is not the same thing as teaching them to be aware.
So, we had a tough week – Three suspects picked up for burglary, and a child smart enough to run away and report on a possible danger. (And isn’t it lovely that that’s what constitutes a tough week in Culver City ?) But week in and week out, we have absurd amounts of traffic carrying perfectly able-bodied children a distance that can be driven in minutes, and therefore walked in less than half an hour.
I know why we do this. That green car represents some of our most devastating fears – children being abducted, being raped, being murdered. The stats are out there. It’s happening somewhere in this country every day.
Teaching your children that cars are the only safe mode of transport is not the answer. What we need to be teaching them is that there is safety in numbers, and when you are walking with friends, or even just people you know, you are safe.
If walking alone is the only option, simply being aware – as was the girl who was approached by the man in the green car – is often enough to keep you safe.
I’m wildly frustrated that after years of ‘Safe Routes to School’ conversations and workshops, we have nothing to show for it except a few extra inches of concrete. The schools that have programs – Lin Howe’s Hiking Vikings and El Marino’s Walk ‘n Roll Wednesdays as examples – are occasional. We need a program to get everyone in the district walking every day.
Yes, I know it’s a big deal to choose who you are walking with, from middle school or even grade school. Our students need to know that they can take care of themselves and each other. If parents have time, walking children to school or walking them home is ideal. You can talk about the day, you can stop and smell the flowers. You can talk about the green Ford Taurus and what that means.
When I was in middle school, the molester was living at my house, and I spent a very long time walking home from school to avoid him. I often walked miles out of my way, only starting back when I was so hungry or cold that I couldn’t hold out any longer. Even then, if my mother’s car was not in the driveway, I ‘d hide in the shrubbery across the street until she came home. Time alone with her boyfriend was avoided whenever it could be. The fact of the matter is still the same – children are far more likely to be molested by someone they know than a stranger.
I don’t assume that children walking home from school are safe; not from adults and certainly not from other kids. One grade school I attended featured a gang of bullies who would chase me and my sister, throwing rocks and hurling insults. We learned to run, and we learned where we could escape them. Some of the stories I’ve heard from my own children about crude remarks and catcalls have raised my eyebrows. Children cannot always be kept safe, but they can be taught how to take care of themselves and be smart.
Don’t feel that your children need an armored transport to and from all their local activities, school first and foremost. When we are walking together, we are talking together, and that is often the best education we can offer.