Friday, September 16, 2011

Something to Be Proud About?

Vermont got slammed in the most recent bout of hurricanes.  Flooded in a big way, there are a great many roads in Vermont that aren't actually in Vermont anymore.  They're just gone.

That's a problem when you're trying to get to work or to school.  It turns out that one school in particular has a bunch of kids who are only connected by a road or two, but in the wake of the storm there are no roads at all.

Enter the wooded path.  There's a convenient footpath through the woods from the remote neighborhood to the school that serves pretty well.  A half-mile of walking from one end to the other, while roads and whatnot are being rebuilt the path is patrolled by adult volunteers as kids make their way to school.  And some low-speed motorized traffic (think golf carts and utility vehicles) are shuttling back and forth carrying seniors and performing path maintenance.

A half-mile of walking is good.  Entirely too many people see a walk of more than two blocks as reason to break out some kind of wheels.  But for the principal of the school to call out the kids who are making the trek to laud them for their extra effort is, I think, inappropriate.

First of all, I walked a half-mile to school as an elementary student.  Second grade, every day, rain or shine.  No big deal.  And then when the day was over, I walked back.  As a high school student, I rode my bike about a mile each way every day.  No big deal.

In an age when we're wringing our hands over the increasing rates of obesity in children, walking to school isn't something that should be held up as praiseworthy.  It should be obligatory.  Or just take the Playstations and Internet connections away, force them to go run around outside and work off that last trip to Golden Corral. That they're doing it is good, that other kids aren't is pretty sad.

A teacher at the school in the news item said his GPS spent too much time displaying "Recalculating," and he turned it off and figured out the best route for himself.  I'm really disappointed by this.  First of all, the Global Positioning System device's default behavior is to assume that the user is only on roads and will need whatever directions it gives to be in the form of road directions.  Secondly, the teacher was relying on GPS.  It's also a point brought up by the article that these people were coming from "the dark side of the mountain," that they had no electricity.  Before long the batteries in the GPS will die and then what will the teacher do?

I've said it before: maps always work.  Even when they're incredibly old and out of date, the odds of the roads the maps depict being actually gone are next to zero.  And in this special case where roads really are gone, the maps still depict relationships of things to each other, and when the power goes out the map still works.  So if you can find any landmark and make a rough guess at what direction is north, you can fake your way until you find more concrete references or familiar territory.

I like to say that no matter how lost I am, I can't be too lost: there are still lines on the road.  Sweetie took it a step further one day: "How lost can we be?  There's still a road."  She was right, of course.  I've never been anywhere that someone else hadn't been there before me.

I think our pioneer forebears would look at our blundering, tenderfoot "making do" and shake their heads in plain dismay.  To them, the path would be like a broad, paved highway, a cleared and delineated route from one place to another.  So while it's good to see the kids determined to get to school and not letting the absence of roads hold them back, I'm not impressed that they're so proud of having achieved it.  It's just not that big a deal.

No comments:

Post a Comment