The Kids on the Bus


It’s summer vacation again. Schools are closed for about three months. A quarter of the year. No, this is not a post about the ridiculous length of American school vacations.

Schools are closed, and so, all across the country, about 480,000 school buses are standing idle for three months. And even during the school year, they are only in use twice a day, and only on weekdays. At the same time, this country has a pathetic to non-existent public transport system outside the big northeastern cities.

For some reason, putting two and two together is tricky. Even when the dirt poor, non-car-owning people of the ninth ward in New Orleans got the order to evacuate for Hurricane Katrina, it didn’t occur to anyone to use the thousands of school buses, which were all standing in the school parking lots, doing nothing.

I understand the feeling that we need separate buses to take our kids to school and back. We feel unsafe in many areas of this country, and we don’t want our kids walking home alone. But how safe are the school buses? Kids get bullied relentlessly, they deal drugs and have oral sex in the back seats, and nothing is done about it, because they have absolutely no supervision.

No, wait, that’s not true. In the state of New York, they hired an elderly lady to be a school bus monitor. Watch this viral video to see how that’s working for them. One elderly woman in a bus full of junior high kids. Yeah, that’ll make them behave.

When I went to school in the Netherlands, I took a public bus from my little town of Eemnes to the slightly bigger town of Baarn. From there I took a train to Bilthoven, where my school was. For most of the way on that bus, my little brother and I were the only kids. The train had hordes of students, going to our school and others along the route. But there were even more adults commuting to work. If we were too rowdy, or too foul-mouthed, or too mean to other kids, the adults would speak up. No way even us cheeky little shits would keep it up if the grown-ups on the bus or train told us to quit.

Granted, that was in the seventies. Kids have become tougher. But they would still be in the minority on public transport buses and trains. There’s no way anyone–be they children or adults–would be bullied the way this poor lady in the video is if there were other adults around.

Also, these kids get bored out of their brains. I’m in no way condoning their behavior, but they do have to spend hours on the school bus. A friend of mine here in Austin has two kids in public school, and they have to be on the bus by 6:30 in the morning or something ridiculous like that, even though they live less than a fifteen-minute drive away. Because the bus has to pick up kids from all over. And the same thing on the way back.

So why not turn the 480,000 school buses in this country into public buses with decent routes, 18 hours a day, 365 days a year? The kids would get to school and back in less time, they would be automatically supervised by all the adults on the bus, and it would save everyone money, which could be used to expand the system where it needs expanding, so everyone in the community has a bus stop within a few blocks from their home, with buses going every 30 minutes.

The answer, of course, is politics.

The good news for Karen Klein, the lady in question, is that a blogger started collecting money for her, and within two days she already has $300,000. And the collection will continue for another 29 days! So she’ll be a millionaire thanks to people’s heartwarming generosity. She’ll be able to retire and never have to deal with the little shits again.

Which is very nice for her, and I wouldn’t begrudge her a cent of it. Apparently she was a school bus driver for years before she became a bus monitor three years ago. She deserves every penny. But here’s the thing: if anyone were to suggest we pay a few cents extra in taxes to get a decent public transport system going, everyone would be up in arms.

Heaven forbid anything common-sense ever gets done here. No way we’re ever going to spend some money on a bus system. That would be socialism, fascism, any kind of ism Limbaugh and Beck and the rest can come up with. Take your pick. No, instead, we use our tax money to throw grannies to the lions, and then we make ourselves feel better by sending one such granny–the one who’s lucky enough to have her ordeal caught on camera–oodles of money.

I’ll never understand America.

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