Monday, September 30, 2013

bus driver accused of doing what??

A Des Moines Register news item shows what happens when fear takes hold:
A male school bus driver was pulled from his route in the Waukee [IA] district last week after he took a group picture of students, and asked two girls to pass along his contact information to their teachers, a district official said. 
Parents of the girls notified the district because they were concerned the driver wrote down his phone number and email on a piece of paper and handed it to the students last Thursday, said Waukee Superintendent David Wilkerson.
Scary business, asking kids to hand a piece of paper to their teachers. And the photo! He took a photo of the kids!
The photo taken by the driver was of all students on the bus holding up their index fingers to indicate they were “number one,” he said.
That is suspicious...if you have a wild imagination.

It certainly wasn't criminal; I don't see how it was even frightening. Perhaps the bus company or the school have guidelines that the man violated. Do not hand paper to students. The article doesn't say.

One of two things is true: the children or the parents saw something ordinary as creepy or the bus driver was creepy. Neither one seems reason to call authorities. Some children have wild imaginations. Some people give off a creepy vibe. The article mentions no illegal acts and yet the video from the two cameras on the bus has been handed over to law enforcement for investigation.

Being creepy is not illegal. The fact that some people behave in unusual ways is reason for parents to educate their kids on how to be kind and courteous to strange people. Any parent who has a child who exhibits unusual social behaviors must worry that those children will be seen as "creepy", now that "creepy" seems to be reason for investigation.

This man is being investigated for very ordinary behavior. The bus company and school, by going to law enforcement, are encouraging us to see danger in ordinary behavior.

Fear permeates this story--fear that someone who acts in inappropriate ways is going to be a danger to children, and fear that children who encounter that person will be unable to handle the situation.

Why did the parents and school district have so little faith in the ability of their kids to handle the situation? The kids did tell their parents, after all. Isn't that what we want them to do if they encounter something that frightens them?

The very fact that a story like this is in the newspaper tells us something: the newspaper thinks a man acting inappropriately--though not criminally--is newsworthy. Why is that? Because fear-mongering sells newspapers.

The assumption seems to be that the man could have been dangerous, though the article doesn't tell us why we should think that. He didn't ask the kids to contact him; he asked them to pass a message to their teacher.
Wilkerson said it appears the driver intended to set up a “pen pal correspondence” with students in Tennessee, where the driver has a regular route. 
Pen pals! That practice used to be seen as a good thing. Not so long ago, the beloved Weekly Reader encouraged schoolchildren to write to servicemen overseas. You read that right: children were encouraged to write to adult servicemen and women. Stranger danger, anyone?

Until the news media rely on fact and common sense instead of strumming the chord of unreasoning fear, stories that generate fear and suspicion will continue to get attention. 

If only bus companies would do a background check on their drivers; surely that would eliminate problems like this. Wait. What's this?
Officials in Waukee and Ames said all bus drivers have passed background checks.
Even the ubiquitous background check cannot prevent bus drivers behaving in ordinary ways from drawing the attention of law enforcement.

Anyone who is on the sex offender registry or has a family member on the registry understands what lies under the surface of this story: 

Innocuous behavior can be interpreted in the worst possible way.
The innocent can be accused. 


LizaMoore said...

People that appear "creepy" are not the ones that will sexually offend. Real sex offenders are sneaky and give off every appearance of being normal.

Marie said...

I like your point, Liza. Appearances are not predictors of actions. Neither is being labeled a sex offender. Parents must be watchful--not paranoid, but watchful. Parents would also be wise to encourage their children to be strong and independent so that, God forbid, something bad should happen, the children will have that strength to help them get through a difficult time.

Liza, I have always admired your willingness to bring your own experience to the discussions here. I know you disagree with me more often than not and yet you return to remind us of the effects that sexual abuse can have on children. I appreciate that.

Margaret Moon said...

I rode a bus to school until I happily got a driver's license and my own car. Our bus driver was a friend to all of us. Frankly, it sounds to me like the driver was promoting school spirit by asking the children to raise their index fingers indicating they were number one! Paranoia seems to run downhill these days... I wonder what today's children, who are told/shown that they are in constant danger, will be like as adults. Do I hear neurotic??

LizaMoore said...

We agree on more than you think. I don't agree with what is happening with the sex offender lists and trapping people into committing a crime.

I really think the list is dangerous for both children who are at risk of being abused and for the people that are on it.

The reason I think it's dangerous for children at risk is because we are so busy watching the list, we are ignoring what is right in front of us. Then you get into who is on the list and who isn't. It's just ridiculous.