Convergence? Confluence? Coincidence? Something along those lines.
May 11 I'm reading the Baltimore Sun, faded former stalwart of the metropolitan area. At least it doesn't take long to read now, disappointing as that is in its own right. So, I read Dan Rodricks's column entitled "The Only Grownup on the Bus". It's a column and not reporting, but it was rather accepting of the point of view of the parent who brought it to him.
Seems a kid of 10, a fifth grade boy, was put off the school bus because, just about everyone admits, he was a pain in the ass. The bus driver had enough and made him get off a half mile from his usual stop. It so happens the kid's dad saw him walking and picked him up. Getting the kid's story of being put off the bus, he catches up to the bus, and the driver confirms he was put off, at another stop with some other kids.
Dad goes right into the full on cable news panic mode, expressing his disbelief that an adult would endanger a child like this. Dad then looks up the sex offender registry in Maryland and finds 15 registered offenders in a one mile radius of where the kid was dropped in the Gwynn Oak part of Baltimore County. This is used by the dad as evidence of how dangerous it was to drop off his son, something accepted without question by Rodricks.
The school admits the driver didn't report the incident, as required whenever a kid is dropped somewhere other than the normal stop.
Rodricks wraps his column stating "adults don't leave 10-year-olds on the street to make a point. Such acts of tough love might have been acceptable to parents way back in the good old days, when kids took the bus because they lived too far from school, not because they needed to be protected from predators. But in this age of hyper-information and fear, we should know better."
I don't know where to start with this. Rodricks seems to be conceding that this is unreasonable fear, but concurrently he's feeding and justifying it.
First off, I missed the announcement that kids ride the bus to protect them from predators. My kids ride the bus in the same county purely because I'm not dropping them off at school every day and it's way too far for them to walk. However, plenty of other kids that go to their schools, both my son's elementary and my daughter's middle, walk. Walk a good distance, for that matter, as I know middle school kids who are walking more than a mile (and they're only one grade ahead of our boy in question). Perhaps Rodricks needs to tell all of their parents, who don't accompany kids as old as 10 and in the fifth grade, that they're in imminent danger. Of course, so are my kids, I guess. Their stop isn't right in front of our house. It's about 100 yards away.
Second, saying there are 15 sexual offenders in a 1 mile radius of the drop is extraordinarily poor reporting, even for someone who's a columnist. Sexual offenders run the gamut from flashers to rapists to pedophiles. It's one of the more troubling aspects of painting all sexually related offenses into one box. There are variations and degrees. But the main point here is that 15 sexual offenders doesn't mean 15 child predators. Just as all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, all child predators are sexual offenders but not all sexual offenders are child predators. The 15 could be all flashers. They could be all rapists of adults. They could be all pedophiles. Who knows because Rodricks didn't take the time to question.
Finally, the whole thing is one big load of crap right from the premise. I'm supposed to believe that this kid is in extreme danger because he was dropped a half mile from his house, buttressed by the 15 predators in a one mile radius of the drop. Pardon me, but to my mind a half a mile is still the kid's neighborhood. Apparently the dad thinks so too, as the 1 mile radius he chose for his sexual offender search includes his own house. Am I to believe the kid never leaves his house without his parents except to go to school? Does he never play in his yard without constant supervision? Somehow I doubt it, considering it seems to me from the column that no one is home when he's dropped off normally. From the inception of this column this kid was never in any more danger than any other day at his own house.
More disappointing to me is that Rodricks has been a long time stalwart in arguing for second chances for ex-offenders. He's worked to match up parolees with jobs. He lays out their stories to show they're humans with flaws, not objects of vilification. Yet this column serves only to vilify sexual offenders as the boogey man in the broad daylight. Without having done anything to see if any of these 15 were actually any kind of danger to the kid, he props them up as a straw man in a father's panic driven response to a wrong but innocuous response by a bus driver.
Which is why I say I don't agree with what the bus driver did. He should have reported to his superiors any problems with the kid. There's no way the driver could have known if the parents were home waiting to take the kid to an appointment or something. The driver has to give the parents fair warning of what's happening with their kid so they can take corrective action. If the kid's a recidivist, dump him wherever if the parents or the school system aren't doing anything about it. My experience with the same school district is that they will address it.
And then there's the other side of the coin. On May 14 I was in Lancaster, PA for a dance competition in which my daughter was performing. One of the most popluar dances was a large group performance (13, if I'm counting right) called "We Three Queens". It was a highly sexualized, Moulin Rouge sort of thing. Three oversized thrones with three girls dressed in red bustier and panties sorts of outfits representing the queens, while the remaining 10 girls were dressed in the same kind of outfits, just in black. There was even a segment of the dance that was straight up "bend me over the chair and take me from behind" in its blatancy.
This would be great in a burlesque venue. Not so much at this competition, which featured kids from 6 to 19. It might even be acceptable if that was your audience's age range, given that a lot of it would go over the heads of the younger ones. No, the really wonderful thing about this dance was that the performers were 9-10 years old. The rules of the competition are that the age is taken from January 2010 and the ages of the entire group are averaged, so obviously some of these girls were well older than 9-10, but even well older only means 11-12.
So, three days after Dan Rodricks is foisting the idea of danger where none exists, I'm watching a bunch of proud parents and dance teachers put out 13 9-10 year old girls as sexual objects, with a wildly cheering audience and pleased as punch judges. This dance won high points.
I'm not saying the dancing was bad. The girls did the moves very well, which was all the more disturbing. I'd imagine the supposed child sexual predators in the 1 mile radius of our above Gwynn Oak home would have been far better served, if serving is titillation, by coming to this competition than looking for the occasional kid walking along the sidewalk. It was open to the public.
And yet, I'm sure a survey of the room at the competition would have found many parents highly offended by the bus driver dropping off the kid. A room where only me, my mom and her husband seemed to think this dance was a questionable choice was bound to be populated by many people in constant fear of the latest cable news disaster that might befall their kids. It's dumbfounding to me how logic fails entirely to rule out an artificial danger like the Rodricks column and fails to bring to the minds of so many loving parents that sexualized 9-10 year old girls is probably not a good idea.
Alas, logic remains an elusive quality in most humans.