Tuesday 6 July 2010


There is a couple here in London that has just made the newspapers and the reason may surprise you – then again, who knows anymore. In short, they let their son and daughter, five and eight respectively, make the one-mile journey, alone, to school in the morning by bicycles. They say it helps to teach them independence, self-confidence and responsibility and wanted their children to experience a bit of what they did when they were growing up, when things were not so regimented and structured. [On the return journey, for those keeping score, the kids are supervised]. The neighborhood is quite suburban where they live, and the kids are told to stick to the pavement the entire journey there. 

The problem is - and hence why it has been deemed newsworthy - that parents and teachers at their posh private junior school in South London don’t share the same sentiment. In fact, they have deemed the parent's decision irresponsible and dangerous and the head teacher is threatening to turn the parents over to social services. The school’s justification, as the children’s educational institution is that they are under obligation legally to consider the children’s safety and what they deem unnecessary in the risk department....now there’s a nice big, scary umbrella to stand under. What is considered too risky, and who exactly is determining this?

Can I hear the steady march of a police state a comin’?? 

Here’s the thing, times have changed, things are indeed less safe than they used to be, crime is up, cities are overpopulated, the world is coming to an end!! We’ve all been told the doom and gloom statistics over and over again. Just watch the evening news – you’ll need a drink in your hand and a bottle of sedatives. And fine, I’m so cynical, I wouldn’t let my five and eight year old out of my sight for minutes let alone a mile, especially on bikes – I know adults I wouldn’t trust riding in this city to make it to their destination alive. But the point is, these are not my children. They are not the school’s children, they have parents who have weighed up the pros and cons and feel comfortable in their decision to let these kids ride their bikes on the pavement, with helmets, to teach them responsibility. In some parts of the country/world, kids possess a lot more responsibility and independence than that, merely because they have to – whether it is due to financial constraints or a single parent household. The funny thing is, I see kids walking to school alone quite frequently, and I haven't heard the police sirens yet coming to arrest the parents.

What scares me more is that the school is reaching beyond their scope of responsibility and essentially interfering in how these children are parented. What’s next, we don’t like the outfits they are coming to school in, it’s an abuse of color, so we’re stepping in? Although come to think of it, my school did have strict clothing and jewelry rules. Okay bad example. But still, you get the idea, where does the reach of the school stop?  On their grounds, fine, make the rules. Off the grounds, politely butt out, unless you think some serious abuse is taking place. And I don’t think cycle riding falls into that category. I can just see all the busybody parents getting together to cast their opinions about this one couple that is doing this dastardly act. Trust me parents, it’s only a question of time till the microscope is turned on you (when little Jimmy finds porn, or Susie starts inhaling poppers?....Sorry, too dark??), and then you’ll be singing a different song.

I remember my school had a policy where if you were caught underage drinking anywhere in the world – in the world!!! – and they found out about it, they could enact punishment once you got back onto school grounds.  I cracked a beer open in Tokyo at age 12 (okay so I didn’t, but I wanted to) just to prove I couldn’t be strong armed by the likes of my overly eager principal. What if kids were in France, with their relatives taking a sip of amazing Bordeaux under the supervision of their parents? This is suddenly the school’s business? Sorry guys, but no cigar. I say stick to keeping Jenny and Billy from playing doctor in the school gym, keeping their eyes on their own papers, and making sure kids aren’t coming to school with weapons. And I’ll make sure little Jimmy stays off the sauce, especially when he’s on his bike. How's that for a compromise.

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