"Who did our ancestors sue if there was a rock on the ground?" Readers respond to Linda Baker's "Walk to School, Yes, but Don't Forget Your Lawyer."

By Salon Staff
Published October 15, 2004 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

Perhaps the best solution to get kids walking to school again is to wait 20 years for all the oil to dry up. By that point, their mommies who drive gas-guzzling SUVs will have no choice but to send the little rascals to school on foot.

-- Claire Taitte

In regard to liability insurance for the simple act of walking kids to school, I never knew that we are supposed to be legally guaranteed to be able to go through life without ever encountering a patch of ice, protruding tree root or large crack. Whom did our ancestors sue if there was a rock on the ground?

If you thought childhood obesity was dangerous, wait until you see the societal side-effects of teaching children that walking requires careful coordination with bureaucrats, corporate sponsors, lawyers and liability coverage.

-- Alex Small

Mom drove my older brother to school on his first day of kindergarten, way back in the late 1950s, clearly a prehistoric era. On his first day, the kindergarten teacher, a wonderful, strong woman with a passion for what children could truly do, said, "Henry, do you know the way to school?" Henry said, "Yes, I do." She said, "Do you think you can walk by yourself tomorrow?" He said he could. And he did. And when I started the next year, Henry and I walked to school together.

Walking to school gave me early independence; a chance for good exercise; the opportunity to stare down the little dog who barked at me from his window and finally, one day when he was out, bit me; the chance to walk past his house again and again in the coming days and overcome my fear; the discovery in those days of the cathedral of elm trees arching and meeting across the streets between my house and my elementary school; the companionship of friends; and many other experiences.

When we moved to a new house about five miles outside the city limits, we no longer had the luxury of walking to school. I missed it dearly.

As I see the lines of cars outside elementary schools and read of the obesity epidemic among young children, I wish that more of them could have the wonder-filled experience of being trusted to get to school on their own. I wonder what they might learn on the way.

-- Jeanny House

This reminds me of an interesting paradox I've often noticed. Living and working in New York City people so quickly develop such a high level of engagement that rules regarding behavior on roads, sidewalks, subways, buses, etc., are second nature and what you might think of as courtesy becomes the essential grease that keeps the wheels turning when 8.5 million people are all interacting at once. So despite the reputation New Yorkers have for rudeness, in this town you can always spot the out-of-towners by their low level of engagement with their environment; so oblivious to everyone around them as to take being inconsiderate to an extreme. Think of one person stopping to read a map and blocking thousands of people lining up to get through the turnstiles. Or five people walking slowly abreast on a sidewalk preventing anyone from passing them in either direction.

I'd like to think that enough interaction would get people to see their place within the community system, but it's discouraging when you see how poorly people manage a simple traffic merge or insist on jumping the yellow light into an intersection they obviously cannot get across. There is just something about being "protected" inside a car that inhibits community feelings even at less than 20 mph.

-- Helen Wilson

Salon Staff

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