Are kids really herded and contained to this extent?

First, help me out, y’all: Remind me why the name “Lenore Skenazy” rings such bells in my head. Yes, I Googled her, and learned her work history (she was canned by The NY Daily News after 18 years — whoop-tee-doo, I was at The State for 22), to some extent her personal life, and the ideas, or idea, for which she is best known.

But none of that explains it. I’m pretty sure I had some kind of interaction with someone of that name at some point. Did she interview me, or did I interview her? Wait — did she used to run in The State? If so, I might have paid for her columns, even though she wouldn’t have run in editorial. There were some weird deals whereby I paid for newsroom features, and the newsroom paid for some of ours. Maybe that’s it.

Anyway, in the course of pushing her one big idea — set kids free (an idea with which I agree, by the way; their lives are indeed too regimented) — she wrote a piece that ran in The Wall Street Journal today.

It was an intriguing piece. It went beyond the usual kids-don’t-walk-to-school-enough theme, to this extent:

Take the bus. Sure, about 40% of kids still ride the cheery yellow chugger, but in many towns it doesn’t stop only at the bus stops anymore. It stops at each child’s house.

Often, the kids aren’t waiting outside to get on. They are waiting in their parents’ cars—cars the parents drove from the garage to the sidewalk so their children would be climate-controlled and safe from the predators so prevalent on suburban driveways.

Sounds pretty horrific. But is it true? I doubt that it’s true here in SC, where we seem to have trouble keeping the buses running at all. Or is it? Your anecdotes would be appreciated.

Most kids, though — including those who live three blocks from school — are driven there and back, to the point that:

…the language itself has changed. “Arrival” and “dismissal” have become “drop-off” and “pick-up” because an adult is almost always involved—even when it doesn’t make sense.

And then there’s the picture of the schools’ containment of the masses waiting for Mom and Dad:

…  afternoon pick-up has become the evacuation of Saigon. At schools around the country, here’s how it works:

First, the “car kids” are herded into the gym. “The guards make sure all children sit still and do not move or speak during the process,” reports a dad in Tennessee. Outside, “People get there 45 minutes early to get a spot. And the scary thing is, most of the kids live within biking distance,” says Kim Meyer, a mom in Greensboro, N.C.

When the bell finally rings, the first car races into the pick-up spot, whereupon the car-line monitor barks into a walkie-talkie: “Devin’s mom is here!”

Devin is grabbed from the gym, escorted to the sidewalk and hustled into the car as if under enemy fire. His mom peels out and the next car pulls up. “Sydney’s mom is here!”

She also tells of a school removing its bike racks to discourage kids from pedaling themselves to class.

So is it really this bad out there? I’m curious.

29 thoughts on “Are kids really herded and contained to this extent?

  1. Doug Ross

    That is EXACTLY how it works these days. The car line at an elementary school extends out onto the main road in many cases. Kids don’t walk anywhere… and recess has turned into “don’t do anything that might injure you or cause anyone to feel bad about being left out”. I saw that a high school in Massachusetts is considering a ban on team captains for the sports teams because it sends the message that some kids are better than others.

  2. Mark Stewart

    The coddling of our children seems even worse than that to me.

    Bike riding is not permitted for elementary schools, nor does it seem is carpooling encouraged. It amazes me to see how and where new schools are located (fronting on Interstates seems to be the new favorite recently); and how non-existent walking/biking connections are to any surrounding neighborhoods.

    I am even more amazed to see that the installation of sidewalks around schools is actively resisted by the metro area’s districts.

    But mostly the car lines strike me as an accommodation to parental laziness.

  3. bud

    Sounds like this may be exagerated somewhat. Although I’ve been out of this loop for a few years now it does seem like my kids led a far more regimented life than I ever did. And they never rode a bike to school even though it was just a few blocks distance.

  4. Debra

    It’s pretty bad.

    I know at least two sets of parents who refuse to let their kids ride school buses, no matter how much the kids beg. The kids must be shuttled from door to door. Curiously, one of the “kids” is in junior high – I’m not sure if the mom thinks the kid is too addle-headed (it certainly sends that message to her, though) or if the parents are too scared of the boogie men who lurk on public transportation.

    Yes, it’s known as “pick up” and “drop off” here. Granted, most of the kids here live too far away to walk – it’s 1.8 miles from our house to the school, which I once measured because my 7-year-old actually wanted to walk last year. I supposed we could if he were a little more of a morning person, but since I have to dynamite him out of bed every day anyway, there’s no way I’d even attempted it.

    But there’s bus service that few folks use. Part of that’s because one of the drivers is insanely crotchety. She starts barking the second she opens the door. “Three seconds! You have three seconds to get on!” When the kids start complaining about her attitude, their parents start driving them.

    Most mornings, there are only two kindergarteners who get on at our stop – the district runs separate buses for kindergarten and the “upper grades” even though it’s a K-2 school and even though both buses are pretty empty. I’m not sure the reason for that. Maybe they plan for peak capacity as opposed to the number of kids who actually ride.

    Ridership drops even more, by the way, once the kids move to the grades 3-5 school because there are about half as many bus stops. My oldest will have to walk a whole block next year – apparently that’s too scary a jaunt for some parents.

    I drove my kids to school the first day even though they protested because I wanted to get the obligatory “first day of kindergarten” picture, but I swore never again. It took a half hour to get in, get parked and get out. The bus makes it to the school in 15 minutes.

    Buses don’t stop at individual houses, but I see plenty of parents who drive their kids to the stop once winter hits. Did I mention that we live in the Mojave Desert? There’s not much winter here.

    We still have bike racks, though they’re sparsely used. That’s probably because parents are concerned about all the “pick up” and “drop off” traffic each day.

  5. Greg Jones

    Down here in the Brunson-Hampton-Varnville metroplex it just got worse this year.
    Pleading state-caused poverty, the school district has said there will be no bus service for those within 1.5 miles of the schools. In these three towns, this affects the primary and elementary school population dramatically, since these towns are all 1.5 miles or less wide from edge to edge, and each has at least one primary/elementary school. That means most of the pre-k to 6th grade students have to be transported by car to school, and by car or some other means to any after school day care they attend.
    The populace are screaming how unsafe this is for the walkers, difficult for working parents, and it’s causing huge traffic jams on highway 278.
    But what are you going to do when there is no money?
    The irony of it all? Most of the students at the middle school and high school are well more than 1.5 miles from their schools, so they get bus service.
    Go figure.

  6. SusanG

    A few comments:
    1. Kids can’t walk to school when there are no sidewalks on busy streets or crossing guards at busy intersections.
    2. One is no longer allowed to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk where they do exist, and kids are not ready to share the road with cars.
    3. Many times riding the bus requires a child to get on that bus well over an hour before they’re due at school — which starts much earlier than it used to.

    My child can’t walk or bike because he’d have to cross a very busy road with no crosswalks and walk down a busy road with no sidewalks (he’s 9). He would have to be waiting at 6:05 am (usually in the dark) at the bus stop if he took the bus. But we can leave the house at 7:10 and easily make it to school by 7:20, when the bell rings.

  7. Brad

    Reading that this morning, I had this sudden mental image of winter mornings in New Orleans in 1965-67, walking across the Navy Base where I lived and out the main gate, then about a block and a half to the closest school bus stop, where we would stamp our feet and try to stay warm (it can actually get cold in the Big Easy if you spend enough time standing outside) waiting for the bus. My friend Tim Moorman had it worse, hauling his baritone horn (he was in the junior high band), which was about as big as he was. Then the ride was about half an hour.

    Actually, it can get pretty chilly walking on a winter morning along the shore of Hillsborough Bay in Tampa, believe it or not — the quarter mile or so to my bus stop there on McDill AFB — one central stop for all the high school kids on the base.

    But I never thought of any of this as hardship. Or as dangerous. In between those two assignments, my Dad spent a year in the Rung Sat (which means “Forest of Assassins”) Special Zone in Vietnam. Now THAT was dangerous.

  8. bud

    You’ll certainly never hear me say Vietnam wasn’t dangerous. But the fact is there are more than 35,000 folks killed every year on our highways, about 2/3 of the soldiers killed in 8+ years of Nam. I would suggest to all those who don’t want to take little Johnny to school every morning consider the risks of him walking or biking.

    Our kids are far safer today than in the 60s. So this is really a tradeoff. Keep the kids safer or allow a little higher risk with the benefit that they learn self-reliance skills, something that will be extremely useful later in life.

  9. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, back in my day, you had to walk if you lived within a mile. Everyone else pretty much took the school bus, which stopped wherever “they” determined it should–sometimes one whole block over. It was driven by high school students. You were expected to sit three to a seat, even if you had a large band instrument. It was a hayle-hole of bullying.

    Not sure it was the right thing at all. I sure had a lot of distracting “stomach aches” contemplating it.

    I guess the anti-carpooling comes from issues with noncustodial parent kidnappings, maybe. I do think we are far too afraid of stranger danger and not enough of youth minister/scout leader/priest/stepparent danger.

  10. bud

    I remember walking about 2/3 mile to elementary school most days. I would have to cross a moderately busy road to get there. There was a crossing guard where I crossed. Interestingly enough the crossing guard was an older student from my school, perhaps 11 years old. Interesting how in days gone by we would give an 11 year old the responsibility for safely getting an 8 year old across a busy road.

  11. Anne

    My oldest child rides his bike to school and I feel very safe. Our second child gets a ride, even though his school is about the same distance away (1/2 mile or so) because he is kind of a space case and would have to cross a street where I’ve seen several near fatal accidents.

    I do feel very safe letting my child bike to and from school and I don’t understand the paranoia. i have found that a lot of parents don’t want to carpool, which I think is nuts. Sometimes I think it comes down to laziness (not wanting to organize it, which is a great example of not wanting to spend a little extra time to save a lot). I also think we are conditioned to have things exactly our way – no one wants to carpool if it means they might have to bring their other children along once in a while and disrupt their schedules. Nuts, really.

    I am all for whatever’s easiest for me, which means children transporting themselves by foot or bike or carpooling. Call me selfish.

    I also think independence is a good thing. I love that my son and his friends can travel the neighborhood. He has a cell phone which makes it even easier. I’ve also given him the warning:

    “Every where you go, someone knows you. You may not know them, but they will recognize you. This is a small town, so behave.”

    I grew up thinking I was always being watched by someone who would tell on me to my parents. I think fear is an excellent motivation for good behavior! ha!

  12. Herb Brasher

    Brad, you live in Lexington–don’t you run ever into the traffic at Lexington Middle School on 378 during the middle of the afternoon? I used to think that all the traffic here is caused by new businesses, but the difference when school is out put that theory to rest.

    And when I’m walking through the neighborhood in the morning, most school buses run through empty.

    So, in some neighborhoods, there aren’t any, and in others, they don’t need them.

    John Rosemond has a column in The State, and he is basically always saying that we need to stop making kids the center of attention.

    One terrorist doth make a whole country quake; the same with one child molester. Maybe I can say that only because my grandkids have been OK so far; others will have a completely different view. But is all this taking junior to shcool in our SUV really necessary?

    And is the gigantic parking lot at Lexington High School really necessary? Could some of these empty school buses be put to better use? European high schools don’t have parking lots, at least they didn’t when our kids went to them. That was one of the first things that struck me back in the 70s when our kids started school. Oh, our son got into a couple of fights on a school bus; we took him to the family involved and made him apologize. Getting involved in the situation defused it.

  13. Mike F.

    Yes, you used to pay for Lenore Skenazy. She was a 600-word op-ed option when you didn’t have room for 800 words of Great Seriousness.

    My son doesn’t take the bus in the morning because it comes at 6:45 a.m. to take him to a school that’s six minutes away by car.

  14. Norm Ivey

    We have kids arrive at school as early as 6:30 (tardy bell is 7:30) because they are dropped off as the parents leave for work. We often have students who arrive late for the same reason.

    Students cannot carry anything on the bus that cannot fit on their lap and still be below the height of the seatback in front of them–large projects and instruments cannot ride on the bus. I’m not sure about the 1-mile rule, but I know buses run routes through neighborhoods that are at least partly within a mile. (There’s a bus stop two doors down from my house, and I am 1.1 miles from school.) Bus drivers have a pretty tough job. They don’t get the opportunity to build a relationship with the children as teachers do, and some students take advantage of their relative anonymity and the fact that the driver has to watch the road more than they watch them.

    Sometimes parents create unsafe circumstances by dropping students off on the street (forcing the kids to dash across traffic lanes) rather than going through the carpool line. Some kids attend schools outside of their attendance zones (for choice and magnet programs), and those parents must provide their own transportation. Many of my students would have to cross Clemson Road to get to school, which is intimidating enough when you’re in a car, much less on foot or on a bicycle, which few ride to school anymore.

    I know many of the elementary schools use a system like the one described–the students wait with adults until their parent arrives. In middle school, we chase ’em out, but many wait within easy reach of a door or an adult until their ride arrives.

    So, yes, it is that “bad” out there, although bad is not the word I would use. It’s just different. I’m curious how the twins will get to school when they reach that age…

  15. Brad

    Good link, Burl, and good point!

    OMG, we’re not going to let the little darlings wield CLUBS, for goodness’ sake!

    Most of my ball-playing in my youth was of the pick-up variety, or the unsupervised PE play variety. (Back then, the coaches would run us through cals, then empty onto the ground a huge sack of balls corresponding to the sport of the season, tell us to get out there and play, and then go back into the office to continue dissecting last week’s football game. And there WERE injuries. In fact, the aforementioned Tim Moorman (what a coincidence) was chasing a foul ball when he ran into a blocking sled standing by the fence, breaking his nose in an explosion of blood. I gave him my T shirt to soak up the blood, and a couple of us helped him to the office. And that was it. We played ball the next day, same as always. Except Tim, who was wearing a bandage that made him look like the Masked Avenger or something. (He didn’t have to “dress out” for awhile. From what I hear, “dressing out” and mandatory showers have pretty much gone by the boards, too. Which makes me wonder, how do kids get acclimated to casual mass nudity these days?)

    I only played uniformed, organized ball one summer, my last year of eligibility for senior little league, when I was 15. The pick-up games were more fun.

    As for my Radford sports career (picking up on the theme introduced by Burl on his link) — I was on the wrestling team, until a neck injury (due to such drills as being held by the legs upside down by a partner who would then bounce you up and down on your head on the mat) caused me to quit for the season — and still gives me trouble today.

    Then I went out for track, and Mr. Chun let me be on the team, but I never got to run in a meet. Too slow.

    Track at Radford in those days was so low-priority that the shirts and shorts they gave us had footballs on them…

  16. Brad

    Yes, Mike, I remember now! I can picture the mug we used now!

    Yeah, I think I used to complain that she didn’t talk enough about throwweights and such.

    She was sort of the anti-Trudy “We’re All Gonna Die” Rubin…

  17. Kathryn Fenner

    What’s a throwweight and why would I want to read about it?

    I enjoyed Leonore–and skipped Trudy, Charles, George and Cal–on the grounds that they make me crazy and I can’t do anything about it. Guess I’m a lightweight.

  18. scout

    M y school is pretty rural and the population is poor. There is a distance within which you can’t ride the bus and a mile sounds about right. There are a good many walkers but no bike riders I can think of….my guess is the kids in the community immediately surrounding school don’t own bikes. I think the buses do stop at each kid’s house but that doesn’t mean they don’t still have a walk down a long dirt driveway – many of the routes/houses are dirt roads anyway, but if the student is 2nd grade or younger they have to be delivered to an adult at home or the bus brings them back to school. The car riders are not herded in the gym but are stationed in clumps by grade under the long awning which stretches across the front of the school. Parents do line up ridiculously early in the car line…definately an hour, maybe more. There is a teacher with a bull horn who happens to be a control freak and has issued parents name cards to display on their folded down passenger side visor, so she can belt out the names of the kids and announce which pole they should head for…she calls up 5 cars at a time at poles 1-5. It is a sight to behold.

    I like the idea of having the babies separate from the older kids but no such luxury exists at my school(s). 4k through 12th grade are on the same bus.

  19. Pat

    When I grew up, I walked to school 3 or 4 blocks away. We had sidewalks. The younger children were sometimes walked to school by their mothers if there were no older siblings.
    I drove my children to school in a carpool with 2 or 3 other children. The other mothers picked up. One year my middle school girl was going to ride the bus home because it was a straight route; that lasted 3 weeks because of a bully.
    Most of our neighborhoods no longer have sidewalks, and they are mostly in an urban area. We don’t have “walkable” communities. Plus, with the way the world is now, most parents would want to see their children handed over to a responsible adult.
    The state pays for buses to pick up and deliver 1 mile or 1.5 miles – any closer than that, the school district picks up the tab. Bus routes have to be approved by the state. With budget cuts, school districts can no longer afford to pick up the tab on pickups any closer even though they would like to. This is also affecting needed after-school programs; if kids don’t have another way home, they can’t stay for the program.
    Re: high school parking lots. It’s cheaper to have a one-time expense to put in the parking lot than it is to pay the recurring costs of bus drivers plus benefits. I don’t know where one lives that they see empty buses, but in our area, many of the buses are running two routes, and they are packed. Of course, part of that is because there is a shortage of buses – even old ones.
    In Atlanta, the kids use MARTA. The high school kids go to magnet schools that might even be across town. That mechanism (MARTA-type transportation system)is not well enough developed in the SC areas I know.
    This is a new day in raising children. In my childhood years, I only knew of one working mother in my neighborhood – a stranger was immediately noticed. It might be true that some children are over-protected. On the other hand, there is a reason that every teacher must now be trained in “Darkness to Light”; some children are less safe in their own families. Very sad indeed.

  20. Kiki

    The twins will walk as the school is 4 blocks away, but they will be escorted because they’ll have to cross a busy street. I really really wish there was a footbridge.

  21. Barry

    There are 4-5 kids waiting at the bus stop at the entrance to our subdivision every morning.

    My kids don’t walk to elementary school because it’s 8 miles away. There are no sidewalks (South Carolina doesn’t much like building sidewalks or shoulders on roads that are more than an inch wide)

    Call me crazy, but I’ve never cottoned to the idea of my 1st and 4th grader walking 8 miles (one way) to school on heavy traffic roads with no sidewalks or shouldered roads – in an area where there are no less than 6 registered sex offenders within a 10 mile radius.

    and I disagre with Doug again-

    my first grader and 4th grader climb all over monkey bars every single day at lunch. I know because I volunteer at the school several times a month and see them doing it – along with a ton of other kids.

  22. Lenore Skenazy

    Hi! It’s me! Lenore herself, who did indeed used to run in The State and would like to run there, again! My syndicator is Creators ( and I think my column costs all of about $10 a pop!
    Meantime, on my blog I asked for people to tell me how their kids are getting to school and got over 200 responses, so it is indeed true that kids are being driven down their driveways, and dismissed in the arcane, elaborate way I describe: With walkie-talkies announcing the arrival of such-and-such a parent, and kids being escorted out of the gym and hustled into their waiting car like an unpopular dictator.
    It’s a weird world we’re living in and my message is — as this blog summed it up: Free the kids! Thanks for taking notice. Send me back to The State!
    Yours — Lenore “I’m Still Here!!!” Skenazy

  23. Kathryn Fenner

    @ Lenore– Brad is no longer with The State, and I reckon your column is too girly for Cindi! I repeat, that I enjoyed it mightily. I don’t have kids, but if I did, they’d walk. There are no more predators than there ever were, and the greatest dangers to our kids are, statistically speaking, not on the street, but in the church, the scout troop, and from step-parents/paramours.

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