Is this trip necessary?

March 6, 2003
My neighbor who lives two doors away was standing on his front stoop staring into the gathering dusk one Saturday evening. The police had left moments earlier after informing him that his wife had just been killed in a traffic accident. The driver of a tour bus had fallen asleep at the wheel, crossed the median of an interstate highway, and smashed head-on into her car.

by Ronald Khol, Editor

The bus was carrying a high-school band from Indiana on a tour of eastern states where they had been performing concerts. The kids were on their way home when the accident happened.

In the aftermath of the accident, there was a lot of commentary in local newspapers about the qualifications and competency of bus drivers. How long were they legally allowed to be behind the wheel on continuous stretches? What kind of training did bus companies provide their employees? The questions went on and on, all of them focusing on the hapless driver.

I have a question different from those being asked in the mass media. Was this trip necessary? Why was a busload of kids being hauled all over the eastern seaboard performing concerts? Virtually every community has a high-school band that could provide a concert if the community finds itself in need of one.

Why, in fact, are school buses on every day of the week hauling kids to places they don't need to be? They are taken to museums, petting zoos, symphonies, and any number of places they shouldn't be during the week, when most of these trips take place. Kids belong in school, not in big yellow buses riding fender to fender with gasoline tankers on the interstate. Inevitably, when there is an accident and children are put in harm's way, the hand-wringing and clucking over their safety and security seems to have no end.

What is the most effective safety measure? Don't take the trips. The biggest benefit of most of these trips is that they serve as a relief from routine for schoolteachers, teachers aides, and parents who accompany the kids. If you look deeper into why these trips happen, you find that the children are often pawns for adults who want free travel and some diversion from their barren lives. Or else the kids are captive customers for attractions that charge an admission fee for everyone on the bus.

Moreover, newspapers often have advertising sections urging people to take so-called one-tank trips to visit local tourist attractions. But in a day when SUV drivers are accused of wasting gas, why do newspapers urge people to drive about the countryside wasting gasoline for dubious low-level thrills?Or consider the tear-jerking episode where six coeds from a local university were killed when their van skidded on an interstate highway and got T-boned by an 18-wheeler. They were returning from a trip to Florida for spring break where, presumably, the attraction was to be wooed and won by partying guys. Again, my question: Was this trip necessary?

And then there was the 44-year-old history teacher from Erie, Pennsylvania, who took her 55 students on a field trip to see a tribute to John Lennon at Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, some 100 miles distant. The objective, she said, was that she hoped the teenagers would better understand her appreciation of him. A school-sponsored trip to teach an appreciation of John Lennon? Was there ever a case where we are more justified in asking: Was this trip necessary?

-- Ronald Khol, Editor

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