If I have not timed my trip well, I end up becoming part of a long procession of vehicles stuck behind a school bus. If it is around 2:30 in the afternoon, it is the high school buses, and if it is an hour later, the elementary school kids are being dropped off. For the younger set, you know when the bus is going to stop, for along the route spaced at 50 yard intervals or so there is a small cluster of parents waiting for the return of their children.
The process is quite interesting. First the bus comes to a complete stop. A mechanical crossing guard arm on the driver’s side springs out with a large STOP sign, showing oncoming traffic, and those behind the bus, that they must stop. The doors are then opened; the child walks down the bus stairs to the road and hesitates at the front of the bus. Looking for the driver’s signal of a clear passage, he then walks confidently across the road with his eyes on his mom.
Children must walk if they live within a half a kilometer of the school, but there they have living crossing guards to keep them safe when traversing any roads close to the school. In our Canadian town of 19,000, we have a traffic light within one block of each of the two elementary schools. At the public school a crossing guard is set up one block away from the traffic light on the main road at a courtesy crossing. A courtesy crossing is a suggestion to both the driver and pedestrian. The person on foot may cross the road safely if the cars wish to stop for him. Once he is confident that the way is clear, he may make it to the other side without dodging vehicles.
At our courtesy crossing, the crossing guard, sporting his orange safety vest, with his arm held high showing his two sided stop sign to the traffic coming both ways, stops in the middle of the road. Meanwhile, the children, who are waiting to cross and are either talking with each other or maybe engaging in a little roughhousing or shifting their backpacks uncomfortably, pay no attention to the guard. When the guard deems the road safe, he signals to the children; they respond by blithely crossing the street.
At the Catholic school, the crossing guard helps the children cross at the traffic light. When a group of students gather and the light gives them the right of way, the first thing that happens is that the crossing guard walks to the middle of the road with her two sided stop sign held high. When she deems the situation safe, she signals to the children, and they casually cross the intersection.
This winter, a grade 10 student merrily made her way across the courtesy crossing near the high school and was hit by a car. (She had some minor injuries and was back at school within a few days). The school’s and townships’ response is to install a full set of traffic lights at that exact spot in time for the next school year. This makes five sets of lights about every 2 blocks all on the same road in a town in which times of high traffic volume is called “rush minute.”
Charlotte Mason gives us an idea of how this could happen:
Habit, tradition, and society’s accepted norms have so much influence over us that we get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, go about our morning routine and evening leisure without even thinking about it; it is second nature. One thing we do know about the will: its function is to choose. It decides for us. It seems certain that the harder the act of making up our minds becomes, the weaker our general will becomes. Opinions are spoon fed to us. We absorb our principles second-hand, or even third hand. Our habits are whatever is most convenient and accepted as mainstream. What more do we need for a decent, orderly life? (Laurio, vol. 6 p. 129)
When I heard that a teenager, a person of an age old enough to know better, was hit by a car, I was outraged. Not at the child, but at the systematic overpowering of students’ ability to learn. It is now second nature for students to cross intersections unless a person in an orange vest says not to. My question to the school board is when are they going to teach a child to cross the road, on their own, safely? It seems that the answer is: never. As long as it is “convenient and accepted” by parents and school officials, nothing will be changed. When I confronted the local high school principal and vice principal during a parents meeting, they did not even bat an eye. The fact that a traffic light will go up solves the problem for them.
Our CM Study Group was studying the chapter on The Way of the Will in Volume 6 just a few weeks after this incident. I thought it illustrated Charlotte Mason’s words perfectly:
“We teachers must make ourselves understand that our aim in education isn’t so much conduct as it is character. We can get decent conduct from students via various indirect methods, but good behavior is worthless to the world if it doesn’t stem from inward character.
“Every attack on a person’s flesh and spirit, no matter how subtle, is an attempt to compromise his integrity or will. However, in these days, we’re threatened with a war upon us. This war is no longer indirect, but it’s aimed deliberately and directly at the will, which is the person. The only thing preventing us from becoming a nation of idiots is that there will always be a few people with strong wills among us who will resist the general trend” (Laurio, vol. 6 p. 131).
We are in danger of becoming crossing guards in our homes and in the classroom and contributing to the “nation of idiots”. We can manipulate a student into a position that life becomes good for us. Just because a class is orderly or our children are behaving passively does not mean they are learning or care to learn. Our job is to offer “the tools that give him the ability to direct himself (because they) are as much a part of him as his intellect, imagination and hunger. Those tools are his conscience and his will. The conscience can’t do its job without regular, consecutive education” (Laurio, vol. 6 p.131).
If we are always telling, the child is never learning. Like a baby bird, automatically opening its mouth to swallow the predigested food from its mother, it is not until the mother starts its training does the bird start figuring out how to feed itself. How does a 16 year old get hit by a car at a crosswalk? She is still being fed like an infant. Mason tells us “a person can exercise his will wisely, justly and with strength only if all of his powers have been trained and instructed” (Laurio, vol. 6 p. 133). We must train and instruct.
Mason Quotes from http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/6_1_08.html Copyright © 2003 Ambleside Online. All rights reserved. Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio
© Jen Gagnon 2012