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Walking To School

— An essay by Tom Vanderbilt in the Sierra Club's magazine struck a chord with me when he spoke about what life was like when he was a kid.

Like him, I led a comfortable middle class life and suffered no deprivations worth mentioning. But I did have to walk to school. He points out that’s something few kids do these days.

Tom Fudge has become the host of Morning Edition, and he will no longer write the blog On-Ramp.
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Above: Tom Fudge has become the host of Morning Edition, and he will no longer write the blog On-Ramp.

I lived in a small town where nothing was very far away. I walked three blocks to elementary school and about half a mile to high school.

One of my high-school classmates lived half a block from me, and he would get a ride to school from his mom every morning. She once pulled up alongside me as I was walking and offered me a ride unless, she said, I wanted to continue my “daily constitutional.” At the age of 15 I’d never heard that expression and wondered what the Bill of Rights had to do with getting to school.

You could see the American love affair with the car taking hold when I was a kid. My high school colleagues who had licenses and cars to drive were all too happy to motor to school, no matter how close they lived. The street in front of Grinnell High School had a thick line of cars every school day.

But now, Vanderbilt points out that our “love affair” has become a dependency. Love is good. Addiction is not.

His conclusions will be no shock. Kids don’t walk to school because suburbanization has placed them too far away. Their parents are afraid to let them walk because they might be abducted or hit by a car in the crosswalk.

Vanderbilt says vehicle accidents are, in fact, the leading cause of death among children. So fearing for children’s safety as they ply the streets afoot is not unreasonable. Too many streets are designed with the sole purpose of moving cars as quickly as possible.

Getting kids to walk to school again will make them less obese and it will be a big step toward reducing our general addiction to car travel. I don’t know how long it will take to get there, but we were there already not long ago. The 1970s aren’t exactly ancient history.

Comments

Avatar for user 'jziatoca'

jziatoca | June 22, 2011 at 1:50 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I also believe that not only does walking to school give kids an opportunity to get up and move, it gives them a sense of independence and an opportunity to learn to observe on their own. Unfortunately, I fall into the category of people who are afraid their kid runs the risk of being abducted, so I have to find other ways to get my daughter moving, observing and feeling independent.

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Avatar for user 'hopeheadsd'

hopeheadsd | June 22, 2011 at 2:44 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Another nice blog Tom. Its one of the reasons I moved to Lemon Grove where the schools are fairly close to certain areas of the neighborhoods. Despite what I have heard from people that dont live here, its incredibly safe and I see the kids walking to school all the time. If its not them by themselves, its the parents walking with them to school.
From what I gather, Golden Elementary has taken a very hard line approach at having parents not only help in decorating the school, but really be a difference in these kids lives by doing simple tasks like walking to school.

I have said it before and I will say it again, as the baby boomer gen fades away, we are slowly going to get back to more practical ways of approaching daily life. Kids these days, from what I see are sharper than ever and simplicity and efficiency will be a social norm. This story is a small example of that shift.

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Avatar for user 'Tom Fudge'

Tom Fudge, KPBS Staff | July 5, 2011 at 10:12 a.m. ― 3 years, 3 months ago

Thanks for the tip about Golden Elementary. I may get in touch with them to see what they're doing to encourage parents to get their kids to walk to school.

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