The Kids On The Bus (Cultural Differences X)

When I was a child there were no school buses in our neighborhood; we had to walk to school.

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My mother tells me I was insistent on walking alone on my first day of kindergarten. I had not yet turned five. Supposedly she trailed me at a distance to ensure my safe arrival. Unnecessary really – I knew where I was going. Back then children were granted far more freedom than they have now. In North America anyway.

Today children live regimented lives. Mine never experienced the sort of free play that I had as a child. In summertime I would leave the house after breakfast and play in the forest until it got dark. Only then would my parents have started to wonder why I didn’t come home. There were all sorts of dangers in the forest, but we children somehow managed to survive them.

I saw a news story a few months back about a Vancouver-area father who taught his children to go to school using the public transit system. This was considered some form of child abuse, or so it seems. I think the eldest was 11.

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When I was that age I thought nothing of traveling on my own. Rarely on city transit, because Montreal’s system didn’t stretch to the suburbs back then. In 1967 though, Montreal hosted the World’s Fair, Expo ’67. I went, though rarely alone. I would take my younger brother with me. He and I explored those thousand acres of fun, sometimes together but frequently separately. We would set a time and place to meet, and we would do so. We knew when to take the bus back to the local mall where our parents would pick us up.

In those pre-cell phone days there might have been concerns about emergencies, but I knew my home phone number. And how often do you really have to deal with an emergency? I don’t recall any adults ever asking us why we were alone. We had enough cash for food and, as I recall, our season “passports” gave us unlimited access to the on-site monorail system. My memory tells me we visited either 15 or 25 times over the course of the summer. Maybe once or twice did an adult accompany us. I don’t remember hearing that any of my parents’ friends voiced any concerns over our being allowed to roam so freely.

What brought all this to mind was seeing children going to school. The yellow school buses, such a common sight in North America, are non-existent here. If the school is too far away to walk, the children take public transit.

We live in Sulzburg, where the school also has students from the towns of Laufen and St. Ilgen. To get to and from those towns, the kids hop on the same local bus I use. In Ottawa the high school students use public transit, but these children are much younger, ages six to ten. In Canada they would be considered too young to travel without adult supervision.

In Sulzburg the bus actually stops at the school, but that isn’t the case elsewhere. When we went by train to Freiburg last month, I saw that in some towns the train is used to get students to school. I didn’t see schools by the train station (except in Stauffen). It seemed strange to see children, hardly bigger than their backpacks, nonchalantly making the trip from town to town.

I can’t see that ever happening in Canada – people are too concerned about what could happen. We want to protect children from every possible danger, no matter how remote.

German children are apparently more self-reliant. Just as Canadians used to be.

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