When you talk about school, talk about the bus

In grade school, I lived just past the limit for the school bus, so legally, and probably ethically, it was too far for a grade-schooler to walk. But I always walked.

In middle school I missed the bus most mornings. My parents weren’t around to drive me. It was far. I was very late very often. And I remember spending my days planning how to get home without taking the bus.

My memories of day camp are the bus. I would prepare to cope with it for an hour to camp. Then spend all day in camp recuperating and getting ready to deal with the bus ride home.

I think there are some kids who like the bus. The popular ones maybe. The ones who run to the back of the bus. The ones who have regular seats. I didn’t even understand bus pecking order well enough to have a regular seat.

The social demands of the school bus are huge. The noise is incredible. The unpredictability is higher there than anywhere I can recall, even the school cafeteria. Because in the school cafeteria you can hide in a far away corner.

The Pioneer Woman wrote that the biggest reason she homeschools is that she couldn’t imagine sending her kids on the bus for so long. I don’t believe that’s the main reason. She’s loaded. She could hire someone to drive them. That’s what I did. My kids are the last stop on an hour-long rural bus route. So we paid someone to drive them to school.

But let’s say we didn’t. There are first graders riding with eighth graders. For an hour. It’s scary. But assuming that most kids are decent kids, which is a big assumption for a largely Lord of the Flies setting, the hour in the bus, hot and sweaty and tired kids, doing nothing, having just spent all day being told what to do, now sit for an hour. In noise. And confusion. It’s so awful that the bus is a much bigger deterrent for me than the classroom. And at least 20 percent of all kids feel the same way. I would never put my kids on the bus.

My brother just sent me a link to this video. It’s a bus monitor, being harassed by the kids to the point that she cries. The kids say incredibly disturbing things. Someone posted a video of the whole thing and said, “Let’s all donate $5,000 so the bus monitor can go on a vacation to get away from the kids.” And the site collected more than $300,000.

Which goes to show that no matter how bad a school story starts, there’s always room for a happy ending.

25 replies
  1. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    We saw that clip on the news.

    The bus is a bullying crucible: too loud for the monitors to hear anything but the shouters, too liable to schedule and driving safety to “pull this bus over” for every mishap. It’s a free pass for the worst kids can conjure.

    The good thing: idiots willing to record themselves have proof of their own folly. So do the authorities. *Yay* for technology and the checks and balance that come with an immature ego.

    Our schools consolidated bus routes in 2009. I live TWO miles from the school. The kids would have been on board for an hour.

    For two miles.

    I began driving them. Three months later–due to a potpourri of reasons, one of which was the bus situation–we started home schooling.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’ve been thinking about why the school bus monitor (Karen Klein) endured the insults of the kids and ended up crying. She didn’t have to put up with the bullying. One option for her was to get up, walk up the aisle to the bus driver, and tell him/her the situation. The bus could then have been stopped and the children admonished.
    I think Karen really cares about the kids on that bus. She was a bus driver for 20 years and has worked as a bus monitor in the district for the last three years. And while she was being bullied, she probably thought about how our society has changed since she was a kid. It was enough to make her cry. Her words from this article ( http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/47896993/vp/47902370#47902370 ) – “I’m sorry that your sons acted the way they did,’’ Klein said. “I’m sure they don’t act that way at home, but you never know what they’re going to do when they’re out of the house. They should’ve been taught to respect their elders no matter who it is.” Elder bullying.
    My hope is that she will be able to make a positive change in her community (and maybe beyond) with the money that will be raised as a result of this incident. She has already raised awareness world-wide as a result of this video going viral.

  3. Anita Junttila
    Anita Junttila says:

    I went home once with a friend on ‘her’ school bus. My mom would always pick us up so I never took the bus home. I was excited to take the bus home it was a novelty! There was a chubby girl on the bus. The boys teased her mercilessly until she got off. It was awful. I remember feeling sad for her. I was 13. I wish to this day I would have stopped those horrible boys.

    Penelope, I wanted to home school my youngest. I put him in grade 1 anyway. He hated going to school. He would ask me most mornings: “Mom, can I stay home today?”. I was afraid of being isolated and alone if I homeschooled. You tell the truth in your blog. Including the hard stuff. I breasfed Noah. I stayed home with him. None of this was easy. I loved that post you wrote about that. Your blog has given me the courage (and some excellent articles to send my husband) to home school next school year. Thank you for your blog. xo (I’m not so afraid anymore)

  4. Becca
    Becca says:

    I HATED the school bus growing up. Absolutely hated it. It was the worst place in the world. It was so much worse than the cafeteria or the playground (I grew up in the time of recess). I was a picked on kid, and although my ride was only about 20 minutes, it was always awful. We had assigned seating, 1st graders up front and 8th graders in the back, but it was those middle years that were the worst. I had the same bus driver all through grade school and in 7th grade she put me in the same seat as one of my bullies- a girl from the grade below me! It got so bad that I punched her one day! (Sometimes violence is the answer. She didn’t bother me for quite awhile). I remember 8th grade girls picking on me too when I was in 6th grade. I didn’t even really know them. I did everything I could to avoid the school bus. I skipped school constantly. I joined after school activities so my mom would have to pick me up. And when I got to high school, which would have been an hour ride with unassigned seating which made me so anxious I just had my mom take me and pick me up every day because she worked in the middle school near by. School buses should be illegal. Seriously.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      totally agree about the buses should be illegal. the majority of children are never belted in. there is usually no supervision of a large # of children- the driver needs to actually drive the bus routinely in chaos. 5 yr olds with 13 year olds and all ages in between. environmentally- UGH. everytime this topic comes up with other adults from all walks of life, the nightmare stories abound (sexual assault by older boys, being spit on and violently mistreated, and all the name calling from this story are all mentioned every time). and, bus drivers themselves are often bullied by teens.

  5. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    The inmates are running the asylum.

    Being courageous enough to take yourself out of the equation and conserving your energy for more important things seems to be the best option when you can’t control what’s going on around you. This rule seems to apply not just to homeschooling, but also being a bus monitor.

    If this were a bus full of adults, the cops would have either been called or the bus driver would kick the disruptive passengers off, like they did when we were teenagers acting up on the bus, but you would get sued if you did that with a bus full of smaller kids.

    This is a reflection of what their parents are like and how their parents treat people. This is a sign of what is yet to come, and a reflection of society today. Scary.

  6. Karen Loe
    Karen Loe says:

    OMGosh, I couldn’t even watch the video after about a minute. I feel so upset I can hardly think of anything to say.
    Just that I’m SO GLAD we homeschool.

  7. Heather
    Heather says:

    Although I think what happened to Karen Klein is deplorable I also think her lack of authoritative action is part of the reason many kids behave despicably.
    Her sole reason for being on that bus was to be a ‘Bus Monitor’. What would she have done if those kids were saying those things to another child? Because of fears of parental reprisals should we assume that she would have behaved the same way; that she would have mumbled a few things about their bad behavior and started to cry?
    For Pete’s sake, Karen Klein is an adult who did not do her job. I’m sorry she suffered what she did but she made the choice to cave. I hope she’ll retire in peace and give the position of monitor to someone who will do the job well.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      Heather: have you lost a loved one to suicide? Let alone your own child? Have you ever worked in an environment where the masses are attacking you? Have you even considered for one instant what it would be like to be her in this exact space in this exact time? Alone, saddened by the words coming from these ‘children?’ Can you possibly…for a moment, step back and get that being a victim is oft more complex than the MEDIA explanation of the situation? Cant you see your words only support the domineering media blitz story? Was her monitor position to be the role of “abuse taker?”

      Don’t patronize and fault her as weak for not retaliating against these kids. Had she adorned combat boot style bus duties, your type would be the first to have her burned at the media stake for abuse against a minor.

      Shame….SHAME on you for making a double, neh, triple victim of this victim!!!!

      • Heather
        Heather says:

        Hello CJ,

        Clearly I have offended you with my thoughts on this issue. I maintain my position however, and will elaborate that the middle school kids are also the victims here. They are victims of adults in positions of authority in their lives.
        My view is that kids shouldn’t have free rein to speak to adults or other children the way they spoke to Ms. Klein. After the first comment, there should have been a reprimand. Names should have been collected. The bus driver should have been informed. The bus should have stopped right then, pulled over and the children’s parents called to come collect them. Riding the bus should be a privilege based on one’s conduct while on the bus.
        Why is this course of action so unthinkable in our society when it is so clearly the right thing to do? Does a middle-school aged child have more rights than a full-fledged adult? Would the bus driver have told Ms. Klein to get over it and go back to her seat? Would the school principal have chastised her for interrupting the bus routine. Would the children’s parents have complained that their day had been interrupted?
        Sadly I think the answer is “Yes” to all these questions. If we care about our kids -and ourselves – we should take the time and the trouble and the annoying effort required to do the right thing.
        My view is that middle-school aged children should not have unlimited access to cell phones that make video or at least not have unsupervised access to a computer to then put said video on youtube.
        My view is that we are all going to be victims if more of us do not simply do the correct – and yes, often difficult – thing; to exercise our authority as adults on behalf of the children in our care. To set clear limits. For their sakes.
        Even though your reply to me makes clear your anger at my views it in turn made me sad; that we not looking at the bigger picture this horrible incident represents.

        • CJ
          CJ says:

          I have no anger for you. I don’t know you.

          I am profoundly saddened that any person/s thinks it is ok to make a victim be more of a victim. Your first post blamed the victim, regardless of what you state the proper future handlings should be. We cannot solve any of our problems if we begin by blaming victims of a crime. It is shameful to blame the victim.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for your comment, Heather. I like that it’s a totally different perspective on this video. And I like that you make me think.

      What I think is that kids want limits, and setting limits is really really hard. It’s actually one of the parts of parenting that is the most difficult, at least with young kids, because you have to know what the limits are and then enforce them every time, even when you don’t feel like it.

      When people send their kids to school they are basically getting a break from setting limits for eight hours. And it’s the job of the school system to set limits. It’s clear that the burnout rate among teachers is so high because setting limits for 30 kids is exhausting. But setting limits is the first step toward getting the kids to learn something.

      So, I guess Heather’s comment really makes me think: We don’t pay people enough to be the limit setters, so the school experience becomes one full of adults who are not emotionally equipped to do their job. The low pay grade for a very difficult job selects for people who are not employable in other areas.


      • Heather
        Heather says:

        Thanks Penelope. You may not guess it from my comments but I’m a liberal, secular gal. Plus I just started homeschooling, so I’m full of piss and vinegar about this stuff – none more self-righteous than the newly converted!

    • Meg
      Meg says:

      I don’t know how anyone can criticise her for just taking it. What else is she allowed to do, without breaking any laws? Laws making any form of corporal punishment, illegal, prevent her from doing anything but the famous Monty Python line “Stop, or I’ll say ‘stop’ again!”

    • Pamela R
      Pamela R says:

      I totally agree with Heather and if we are looking at Ms. Klein as the victim, who do we think will be the victim when Ms. Klein takes her donated blog money and leaves this job? These kids were being unbelievable. I can’t even imagine my children saying things like this. Ms. Klein’s job was to stand up for the other kids on this bus and she isn’t doing it. Aren’t the other kids on the bus just as much victims for having to be exposed to this? I would also like to know what happened to these children for behaving like this.

  8. Greg
    Greg says:

    We don’t really have school buses in Australia. School kids take the same public transport as everyone else. So there is significant community pressure to make sure the kids act somewhat civilised. I hadn’t thought about it before, but taking public transport is probably the most effective form of ‘socialisation’ that exists in the Australian school system.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is so interesting. It never occurred to me that this is a benefit of living in a city. When I lived in NYC I was always with school kids on the subway. It’s nice, actually, to have kids integrated into society like that.

      School already makes kids so separate from the society they live in. Putting them on separate busses makes that separation more extreme.


  9. P Flooers
    P Flooers says:

    I had been avoiding watching the school bus video. Perhaps because I thought it would be just another example of the ill way adult/child relationships are conducted in our society. And in a way, I suppose, it is. I couldn’t finish watching.

    I was one of the popular kids. Even so, this little clip reminds me of the daily common normal cruelty endemic to the institution. These children, bullies, are a product of the system.

    Thank you for reminding me in a new way how grateful I am we have managed to shelter our children through elementary school.

    Yes, I said the s word. I am proud and grateful to have had the opportunity and temerity to shelter my children. And I feel sorry for children who aren’t sheltered from such insanity.

  10. joanna
    joanna says:

    I liked the bus a lot. I rode it regularly K-10 to different schools from different neighborhoods with kids from very different backgrounds. I wasn’t popular at all and spent most of the ride daydreaming or dozing (my school started so early some years that I walked to the bus stop in the dark. *that* I didn’t like). The cafeteria was vastly worse and I dreaded that every year- hoping that someone I knew would be in my lunch hour and that their table wouldn’t be full and they wouldn’t make fun of me for being quiet. Strange to me that so many feel the opposite.

  11. anna
    anna says:

    i took a very long bus ride, with a really special bus driver who talked to all of us and passed along lots of advice and knowledge.

    she took us to 7-11 at the end of the school year, which of course could never happen now.

    i still think a lot about those bus rides, and how a lot of her predictions on how behavior then would play out later turned out to be completely correct.

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