As students begin migrating to school for the new academic year, I flash back to a yellow school bus on country roads–dust and carbon monoxide in the air, a host of Little Rascals bouncing in the seats, and a few older guys sporting tight blue jeans and greased hair exuding that “don’t bother me ya twerp” look. But we had it easy.
My parents both went to one-room rural schools, and commuting by foot was the mode of transportation. Neither of them hit me with the “we walked two miles to school, uphill each way” line, but they made it clear that kids in the 1930s just naturally trudged along regardless of the season or the weather. Mom and her siblings might get a sleigh ride on heavy snow days, but her clearest memory is when a torrential rain hit on the mile-and-a-half walk home and her arithmetic book floated away in a fast-running stream. Dad said some kids walked two miles to get to his schoolhouse, although one classmate rode a pony he hitched to the flagpole during the day. The teachers kept an eye on weather conditions–no computer radar, no smartphone alerts, and in most cases, no phones at all. On rare occasions, kids were trapped at the school during sudden snowstorms. Students helped bring in wood for the stove and water from the nearby pump.
But, hey–they had it easy! Two years ago, several reports covered the situation for a group of students in rural China who climbed 2,500 feet up a cliff every two weeks as they commuted to a boarding school. The bamboo ladders were dangerous, and authorities began looking into the issue. Apparently the climb now features steel ladders and improved safety features, but their trip to school still makes a 30-minute bus ride seem like luxury.
Kids around the world employ many means of transportation to get an education. As this link shows, youngsters might use rowboats, skateboards, bicycles, donkeys, or even a gondola. And, of course, many walk–or get the chauffeur treatment. Depending on distance and safety, plenty of students make their own way to school, but especially for toddlers and early elementary-aged kids, the “parental pick-up lines” start forming early. The snaking car lines can be civilized or, as one writer puts it, “the all-out chaos can make Lord of the Flies look orderly.” She even proposed “seven rules that parents in the waiting line must not break.” Politeness is a plus; being in a cell phone stupor is a no-no. Having a parental Uber ride seems cool, but most kids would probably rather have their independence.
Back to my nostalgic yellow buses–we didn’t need no stinking rules back then. No sign posted said, “Thou shalt not try to stuff the little first grader under the seat just to see if he will fit.” I imagine things have changed a bit, and buses nowadays in our part of the country make fewer stops–many old wooden houses have been converted to cornfields, and not so many kids wait at the top of the lane with Lone Ranger lunch boxes in hand and playful dogs by their sides. Maybe modern-day students should have an app on their smartphones so they can get a taste of the old-time ride–it would come equipped with the noise of grinding gears and chattering kids; the smell of gravel dust and nearby cattle lots; and a message that says “turn this off, look up, play, wrestle, laugh, talk, and try a little face-to-face social media on your way to school.” Gee, we had it easy.
Note: click here for a blog that looks deeper into the yellow school bus rides of the past.
by dan gogerty (top pic from schoolbusdriver.org, middle pic from express.co.uk, and bottom pic from pe.com)
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