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TinotopiaLog → Won’t Somebody Stop Thinking of the Children? ( 6 Mar 2002)
Wednesday 06 March 2002

Won’t Somebody Stop Thinking of the Children?

Yesterday, as I was trundling off to the Safeway, I was stopped by a school bus going the other way on a small neighborhood street.

The bus followed what is, these days, the standard procedure. To begin with, it’s a 40-foot-long vehicle that’s painted bright orange and carrying a flashing strobe light on the roof. As it began to slow down, orange lights started flashing; when it came to a stop, red lights started flashing, a stop sign swung out from the side of the bus, and red strobe lights on that started flashing. I and another car on the road came to a stop.

As the door opened, a long arm swung out from the front bumper, to keep the kids from crossing within about ten feet of the front of the bus (even though this was a rear-engine bus, with a windshield designed so the driver can see everything to about two feet out from the bumper). So far, nothing I haven’t seen before.

Then, someone got off the bus carrying an orange flag. The flag-waver glared at me and the other stopped car, and started waving the flag. Then, and only then, did two kids, looking to be about nine or ten years old, get off the bus and cross the street. After the kids were safely on the grass verge (the sidewalk in the picture doesn’t actually go anywhere), the flag-waver rolled up the flag, squatted down to look under the bus for — for what? treasure? children lodged under there? — went around to the side of the bus, squatted down and looked again, and got back on the bus.

If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo. Clicking on it pops up a larger version:

Now, if one of those children was likely to have been killed had it not been for that flag-waver, then the flag-waver is necessary.

But, of course, those children were not actually in harm’s way. The other school-bus regulations — flashing lights, stop sign, etc. — see to that. It’s just that when, in the legislature or school-board meeting, someone proposes waving orange flags, you can’t really vote against it. If you did, you’d be accused of hating children.

So we wind up with flashing lights, strobes, stop signs, flag-waving, under-the-bus-checking people, and, probably soon, a siren or something that will alert any blind drivers that there’s a school bus unloading nearby.

And the real problem with this is not that it’s a waste of time and resources — though it is that. The real problem is that these children are being taught, with the school-bus rigamarole and nearly everything else in their lives today, that they are incredibly fragile, and incredibly dependent on others. That the world is an incredibly dangerous place, and getting dangerous-er all the time. That they must be protected at all times.

None of this is true, but the kids don’t know that. All they know is that most of the adults they come into contact with see the world as an incredibly hostile place, full of “superpredators” and school-bus-related deaths.

The reality that the kids don’t know is that one child is killed as a pedestrian while dealing with the school bus in the USA — run over by the bus, or by another car — for about every 1,890,000,000,000,000 school-bus passenger-miles. That’s not a typo. One child is killed for about every two quadrillion passenger-miles. That’s a number so large as to be inconcievable, but I’ll try to make sense of it: If there were only one school bus, and it carried fifty kids — about the national average — it would have to make over two hundred thousand trips to the sun and back before one child would die as a pedestrian.

As a comparison: in 1997 (the most-recent year for which I can put together statistics), commercial aviation in the USA resulted in one death for every 13 billion passenger-miles flown. The conventional wisdom is that aviation is the safest means of travel there is. But the school bus is over 142,000 times safer. It’s not just a little safer. It’s over one hundred thousand times safer.

But, as I said above, kids are taught — subconsciously — to believe that the school bus (and nearly everything else) is very dangerous. It’s a good idea to teach children how to cross the street safely, but it’s a very bad idea to teach them that they’re at risk when they aren’t. We’re raising a generation of nervous nellies. Eventually, they — the ones who don’t self-destructively rebel against this idiocy, that is — will grow up to be the kind of people who are afraid of their own shadows. Fearful of nearly everything and instinctively dependent (who wouldn’t be, in such a horribly dangerous world?), they’ll be the kind of people who vote dictators into power.

Now, they might not — probably won’t — actually do that. But it is well worth remembering that the environment in which a child is brought up strongly influences the kind of adult he or she will become. The Jesuits say “Give me the boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” The current parenting culture, on the other hand, says “Give the child, and I’ll see to it that he’s always a child.”

(Statistical note: School buses carry 24 million children in the USA, and they travel a total of 4.3 billion miles per year, both according to the NHSTA (warning: PDF). I have assumed here that all those kids ride the bus all the time, and that the average child rides exactly half the bus route. These statistics don’t include deaths that occur while on the bus (though that’s even less likely, as it happens), or any fatalities that occur on field trips, after-school activities, etc., because we’re mainly concerned with the normal before- and after-school pick-up and drop-off here.)

Posted by tino at 13:23 6.03.02
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