Opinion Matters

With Gazette Opinion Editor Greg Peck

How many kids walk or bicycle to school these days?

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Greg Peck
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

School doors reopened across our region today. That means kids are walking and bicycling to school and that motorists had better put down the cellphones and pay more attention.

Except, however, that fewer and fewer kids really do walk or pedal to school these days. Instead, most get rides to school. That means other motorists should watch out for frantic parents hurrying to drive to school, and for little kids who might dart across streets after their parents drop them off near schools.

Do you remember walking to school? I do. In my hometown of Marshall in Dane County, it was nothing for me to walk most of a mile to my elementary/junior high school, at times toting not only my school books but trombone and duffle bag for phy ed and basketball practice. Sure, I'd beg Mom to give us a ride before she left for work. Quite often, however, my sister and I just hoofed it, often walking with neighborhood friends.

Sure, we ran into bigger bullies from time to time. We also learned to cope and socialize and about the delight of mud puddles and a stop at the grocery for a nickel candy bar or Popsicle. I rode my bike from time to time, too.

Never, that I recall, did we fear that some bogeyman would abduct us. That seems to be the biggest concern of parents today. Lenore Skenazy, whose syndicated columns appear in The Gazette's print edition, suggests these fears are exaggerated far beyond reality. She points out that most kidnappings involve custody battles.

In a column we published Aug. 12, she noted that today only one in 10 kids still walks to school. That, she says, is “in part because some new schools have been built on the outskirts of town and in part because some neighborhoods are so car-centric that there is no decent on-foot route to school but also in great part because parents have been warned every which way that their kids are never safe doing anything outside on their own.”

Skenazy says first lady Michelle Obama, who wishes kids would start moving again, recently endorsed the idea of the walking school bus. This involves a bunch of kids walking together and picking up other kids along the way (like a bus), while escorted by at least one adult chaperon.

“The idea of kids walking is wonderful, of course. But the idea that this is such a dangerous activity that it requires ongoing chaperoning is troubling,” Skenazy wrote. “I'm sure Michelle couldn't come out and endorse kids just walking on their own, because that's truly dangerous in some neighborhoods, and she is first lady for the whole country.”

Here's the problem, as Skenazy sees it.

“If parents are told kids can only be 'safe' outside with a guardian watching over them, what are the chances that they will send their kids outside after school to play? They won't. Kids will end up inside. No parent has hours and hours after school—and whole days free on weekends—to stand outside and supervise.”

Of course, the big risk to all this inactivity, is childhood obesity, which will be the subject of Wednesday's Gazette editorial. (Subscribers will be able to read it online later today).

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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