A Kid Gets Lost on a Field Trip: Then and Now

Readers — I loved everything about this column except its perhaps inevitable conclusion. It’s by Alan Newland, a former teacher and headteacher in London who now lectures on teaching and runs the site newteacherstalk. He’s recalling being a brand new teacher taking his Year 6 kids (10 year olds) on a field trip to the dinosaurs 20 years ago (boldface mine):

THE DAY I LOST A CHILD ON THE TUBE by Alan Newland

…I had 30 kids. I was on my own (except for a mum who worked part-time at the school – known in those days as “a Lady Helper”). The kids are excited. It’s a day out. All they care about is comparing their sandwich fillings. We are on the platform and I see the first train coming is not going our way. So I’m trying to make myself heard above the melee of commuters, dancing up and down the platform trying to keep the kids back: “This is not our train everybody! Stand back! Stand back! It’s not our train!” I think I’ve got the situation under control.

I haven’t.

There’s always one isn’t there?

It’s Maxine. She’s a lovely kid but she’s not taking a blind bit of notice of me. The train comes in, the doors open and she jumps on thinking everyone is going to follow her. The kids see her and shout: “Maxine! Get off, it’s not our train!” But it’s too late, before she can, the doors close.

I will never forget her face.

It’s a bit like that painting by Munch – you know the one – it’s called “The Scream”. Only this time it’s with a black girl wearing horn-rimmed glasses and her face is pressed against the door of the tube train as it passes me.

Now… just pause for a minute and think how the other kids reacted to this?

Maybe with horror? Shock? Panic? Perhaps even a little nervous laughter? Well, if you think laughter, you’re only half right.

It was raucous, uncontrolled hilarity. Those kids were laughing hysterically. “Maxine! You idiot!” they screamed, pointing at her and bouncing down the platform, chasing the train for as long as possible before it disappears in to the darkened tunnels of the London Underground.

I am the one in a state of horror, shock and panic – because I don’t even know where the train is going.

These days when you use the London Underground it has announcers, information boards, help points, CCTV, friendly people in blue uniforms everywhere. Then, there was nothing. You would have to go back up to street level to find someone to help.

I set about trying to organise my “Lady Helper” to manage the kids while I set off for some real help. I am running back and forth trying to find where the train has gone and what to do. The kids are still falling about laughing. They think this is great. Even the “Lady Helper” thinks it’s funny.

Within a couple of minutes, someone walks round the corner and I get a real shock….

It was Maxine.

How did that happen? Well, the next stop is Euston Square, only 50 seconds away. She had obviously jumped off the train there, run over the footbridge and there was a train coming back in the opposite direction. I kid you not – she was back with us within three minutes. Ok. Four. Tops. In fact, it was so quick, the kids were still laughing when she walked round the corner.

But boy, was I relieved. Phew!

So off we went to the Natural History Museum. When I got the kids back to school I asked them to write all about dinosaurs and what do you think they wrote about? Yeah,  you’ve guessed it.

But I’ll tell you this. It didn’t even occur to me to report that incident to the head teacher. I’ve often wondered why. But I think over the years I’ve concluded that, in a funny sort of way, nothing really happened.

Yes, I know I lost a child on the London Underground… but there was no real incident to report. Maxine wasn’t hurt, she wasn’t even upset. Maybe she was a little embarrassed because the other kids were laughing at her, but other than that there was no crisis, not even an issue. I didn’t even think of mentioning it to Maxine’s mum.

Fast-forward 20 years.

I am now the head teacher of a primary school in Hackney and my Year 6 teacher wants to take her 24 kids to the Natural History Museum. How many adults do you think she has going on the trip this time? Four? Five? Six? Actually it’s seven. This includes two parents who won’t agree to let their children go on the trip unless they are in attendance too.

The teacher, a great girl who has bags of energy and ideas, has already spent her weekend doing a reconnaissance visit. She’s done a risk assessment, insurance forms, permission slips and planned the educational outcomes brilliantly. Off they go to the Natural History Museum with 24 kids and six other adults. It’s still a bus down to Kings Cross and the tube round to South Kensington. They get to the platform of Kings Cross Underground. Guess what happens?

No, it’s not the teacher who gets on the wrong train this time.

No, Maxine has not grown up to be the Station Manager of Kings Cross.

Believe it or not, exactly the same thing happens. Only this time, it’s not one girl, it’s four!

The train pulls in and the teacher is calling out: “It’s not our train everybody! Stand back! Stand back!” But in spite of the fact that there’s a group of girls with an adult stood right next to them, they are so excited they are not listening to anyone. As the train doors open, they jump on. Everyone is shouting for them to get off. But before they do, in the melee of the crowded train, the doors close and the train moves off.

What’s the reaction of the other kids this time?

Laughter?

Wrong. (But you probably knew that already.)

Shock. Panic. Screaming. Crying. This time it’s all of those and more – not just from the four on the train, but the other 20 still left on the platform, plus some of the adults too.

And the four girls on the train didn’t do what Maxine did and jump off at the next stop. No, they were so freaked out by this they stayed on the train to the end of the line. It was the Metropolitan Line. It finishes in Amersham in Buckinghamshire.

Back at school I get a phone call from the station manager there saying to me “I’ve got four of your girls here. What do you want me to do with them?” So I send a teacher out in a taxi to bring them back. There was no harm done. But the next day I get those 24 kids together and I ask them: “How many of you have been on the London Underground before?” Out of 24 Hackney born and bred kids, only eight had ever previously been on the tube.

Now there’s a change of life-style for you. Twenty years previously, Maxine, as a ten-year old girl had taken herself off to school everyday using buses and tube trains without the slightest care. She had built up knowledge, a sense of direction, common sense and most importantly the confidence to deal with a situation if something went slightly awry.

These kids — and it’s not their fault – but they don’t have what Maxine had. Most live within three hundred yards of the school but their parents drive them to school every day. Most don’t have the confidence and the ability to assess risk and deal with it in the way Maxine did.

But the reason I tell you this story is not because of the reaction of the children that day, but the reaction of parents. I said earlier I didn’t even mention the first incident to Maxine’s mum though I think if I had told her, her likely reaction would have been to give Maxine a roasting for “not listening to her teacher!”

But with these parents it was different. Within hours of the class getting back, I had over twenty parents outside my office demanding to know why this, that and the other had not been done, why hadn’t we organised a coach [that is, a bus], why hadn’t we “protected their children from the hazards of London transport?” All questions we could well answer, and did….

Here’s the end, which basically says that now that the fear level is higher, schools must accommodate it.  Of course, I think, “No, we must work to bring that level back to reality — which is where it was 20 years ago!” But I don’t run a school, so that’s easy for me to say.

So I’m saying it. – L.

What happens on a field trip when a student goes down the Tube?

What happens on a field trip when a student goes down the Tube?

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54 Responses to A Kid Gets Lost on a Field Trip: Then and Now

  1. Powers April 30, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    What a bizarre conclusion for him to draw from this tale.

  2. 20percentcooler April 30, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    While I’m upset at the reaction of the parents in the second half, I’m still trying to stifle back a laugh (since I’m in class) at the image of a horrified girl zooming away on the subway and all those kids laughing.

  3. QuicoT April 30, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    What’s maddening about his conclusion is that the essay itself identifies the problem.

    These kids — and it’s not their fault – but they don’t have what Maxine had. Most live within three hundred yards of the school but their parents drive them to school every day. Most don’t have the confidence and the ability to assess risk and deal with it in the way Maxine did.

    This guy is a head teacher and he can see that the kids under his charge aren’t getting some basic life skills they need to navigate the world around them. This MUST be part of any school’s educational mission.

    If parents came in to chew him out because their kids were getting stiffed for change at the corner store because they didn’t know their arithmetic well enough, he’d easily see he needed to improve maths instruction in school. He wouldn’t agree that children need to be protected from unscrupulous storekeepers, or that parents’ hysterical fears in that regard need to be accommodated. He’d do what he can to better prepare their children with skills they absolutely can’t do without.

    Why doesn’t the same thing apply when it comes to navigating the city they live in?!??

  4. UKmum April 30, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Great article (shame about the conclusion) – there’s a great comment by floundered under the full article :-)

  5. Papilio April 30, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    I know at 12 I did have the sense to get out and take a train back (not a school trip, just going home after school), but I also remember saying to the nearest other passenger that I was on the wrong train. Not so much to get help, just to express that ‘oh shit!’ feeling.
    But I guess those four girls were so engrained with stranger danger they didn’t dare tell anyone they weren’t supposed to be on that train…

    “Most live within three hundred yards of the school but their parents drive them to school every day.” Facepalm.

  6. lollipoplover April 30, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    “She had built up knowledge, a sense of direction, common sense and most importantly the confidence to deal with a situation if something went slightly awry.”

    Confidence and self-esteem cannot be given to children or taught in school. They need to learn to trust their instincts and abilities by allowing opportunities to test the waters in their community and foster independence by actually allowing kids to do things themselves. This is the role of parenting, not schools.

    I also hate how the children who boarded the wrong train were not reprimanded for not listening to instructions and how parents turned the table and blamed the school for not protecting them from the hazards of London transport. Accountability starts with the children who didn’t listen to the teacher and ends there.

  7. Papilio April 30, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Too bad that the teacher never thought of asking the children in advance what they’d do if they found themselves on the wrong train.

    And isn’t it ironic that these four lost 10/11-year-olds were allowed to travel all the way to the end of the line without getting CPS/cops called on them…………..?

  8. pentamom April 30, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    “Why doesn’t the same thing apply when it comes to navigating the city they live in?!??”

    Because it’s NOT the same thing. Twenty years ago, the kid were able to learn it without the schools doing the job and things (in this regard) were obviously much better. This implies that the fault really isn’t with the schools. Detracting from their ability to do math with the shopkeeper by taking time away from the things the school *is* in the business of teaching probably isn’t the solution here, although if the parents insist it’s not their job (either by affirmation as the protesting parents in this story, or by default by simply not doing it) it’s hard to know what the solution is.

  9. Becky April 30, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    We weren’t exactly kids (I was the youngest of the group at 15) and we weren’t exactly on a field trip (we were on a 10 day trip to Spain organized through our school), but I’ll never forget the day our tour guide (Franc)lost us. It was our first day in Spain and we were scheduled to take a walking tour of Madrid. We got on a public bus heading to the city center with a bunch of other people. At some point we passed a famous building and one of the girls in my group, squealed upon recognizing it. We all jumped off the bus to go take photos. All of the kids from my school, that is, a group of maybe 10 teens and 3 clueless “adult” chaperones.

    Some 20 minutes later we were at the bus stop waiting for another bus into downtown when out of nowhere came Franc followed by a group of kids (the rest of our tour group, they were mostly from Texas). Franc looked shocked and dismayed. We had gotten off the bus at the wrong place! We were lost!

    I didn’t even known we had officially started the tour! We weren’t lost, we were right by Madrid’s famous post office. We knew where we were (theoretically, anyways). In our minds, we had just been sightseeing. Wasn’t that the point?! We hadn’t felt the need to have anything explained to us by an official guide, or to have someone hold our hand while navigating public transportation.

    Franc didn’t know how to deal with American tourists who didn’t follow him blindly like the kids from Texas. We didn’t know how to take Franc’s insistence that we would somehow be lost without his guidance. Throughout the trip, we ditched him whenever possible.

    During that trip some of us really did get lost on public transportation – and we found our own way home. Some of us got pick-pocketed – and some of us caught pickpockets in the act and told them off in (poor) Spanish. Some of us went out for an evening of dancing and drinking at a fancy club sans Franc or chaperones – not the kids from Texas, though, they missed out. We learned more from that trip than we ever could have in our Spanish classes back home. And, most importantly, we learned that “we” were never lost. Its only the people who think they’re responsible for us that think that.

  10. Really Bad Mum April 30, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    When you think about it when something like that happens there are usually three types of reactions from parents, first the parent who will make sure an honest effort has been made but the teacher/s then deals with the child who caused the whole thing by not listening by disciplining the child these kids usually don’t cause problems after or often ( in my experience ) , second the parents who realise that yet again their little darlings have screwed up but since they believe they are the perfect parents of angelic perfect kids there is no way in hell they will blame the true culprits so they blame the people ” in charge” who should have had god like powers to protect their innocent helpless a angels, third is the rest they are riled up be second parents and a mob mentality stops them from realising the teacher got in trouble coz the naughty kid of the class was a little shit again.
    Oh and to the idiot mother this morning – holding up the traffic who trying to park ( I had to see his teacher or else I wouldn’t have even gone to the school) so you can fix your 11 yr olds collar which he would be perfectly capable of doing himself, you are Idiot of the Week… Sorry for the rant… Lol

  11. Alan Newland April 30, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Hi Lenore, thanks so much for posting my blog – but your edit doesn’t explain to readers what the conclusion is. I quite understand why you edited it the way you did – but some of your readers have missed the point I think.

    I hope some of them will go and read the full piece either on my own blog at:
    http://newteachersblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/all-change/
    or at The Guardian website at:
    http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/apr/21/lost-child-on-tube

    But thanks again for posting it – and it’s great that people are responding.

  12. lollipoplover April 30, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    @Alan Newland-
    I love your story and read the conclusion to the story. Your last sentence:

    “However changes come about, we have to be ready to accommodate them. And we will. Professional people do. It’s what we are here for, to meet the ever-changing needs of our clients – the children and parents we serve.”

    I disagree with this. It isn’t the teacher’s responsibility to accomodate or serve parents. Teach serve students. Just because you get 20 angry parents in your office responding to a small snafu (which was a direct result of 4 children not following explicit direction) doesn’t mean anything needs to change. Pointing fingers and assigning blame anywhere but to the children is scapegoating and it will only delay children from accepting consequences for their own actions.

    My daughter went on a 2nd field trip last week to the art museum. One of the students in her class (which was charperoned by numerous parents and teachers) climbed onto a concrete ledge of a fountain (empty and under construction) and fell in, breaking her arm. This accident was a direct result of the child not listening and following direction (or reading the “Keep Off” signs) and was treated as such. Blame was not placed on anyone chaperoning or explained away as “These kids — and it’s not their fault – but they don’t have what Maxine had.”

    Educators do us no favors by not holding children and parents accountable for their individual actions irregardless of age, maturity, and street-sense. This has nothing to do with “times have changed” and more to do with infantizing children to never be held responsible for anything until they turn 18. By then it’s too late.

  13. Marlet April 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    One of my most vivid memories from 7th grade (12 years old) stems from being left behind on a field trip. The teachers and bus drivers had adequately reminded us of the departure time from the zoological park. There were enough watches and clocks around that we were all aware of the time. However, a group of about 10 of us were slow in coming back. We watched from the entrance to the park as our busses pulled out of the parking lot.

    I appreciate the teachers for sticking to their guns and treating us like responsible people. We found a pay phone (mid-80’s – they were still to be easily found), called to let the school know we were finding a way home, and used public transportation to get back to the school. This included walking about 1 mile to the university. A girl in our group had been to events at the uni and was confident in how to catch the bus from there. We scrounged up enough change for bus fare, rode 9-10 miles to the junior high neighborhood, and returned to school on foot – another 3/4 mile.

    I have no recollection of what we saw or discussed at the zoo, but I remember the elated feeling of using our resources to get back to school. THAT should be the field trip.

  14. Steve April 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    To me this is The Point that non-free rangers should take to heart:

    “Twenty years previously, Maxine, as a ten-year old girl had taken herself off to school everyday using buses and tube trains without the slightest care. She had built up knowledge, a sense of direction, common sense and most importantly the confidence to deal with a situation if something went slightly awry.”

    What the author said about parents today: “And that’s all these parents were expecting – a dialogue.”is false.

    Too many parents today do NOT want dialogue, they want to hang all teachers out to dry. These kinds of parents are always sure they (the parents) are right. Period. Precious Zack and Ashley can do no wrong.

    lollipoplover made an excellent point that focuses on this:

    “I also hate how the children who boarded the wrong train were not reprimanded for not listening to instructions and how parents turned the table and blamed the school for not protecting them from the hazards of London transport. Accountability starts with the children who didn’t listen to the teacher and ends there.”

    Papilio said:

    “Too bad that the teacher never thought of asking the children in advance what they’d do if they found themselves on the wrong train.”

    Good point.

    and I would say …

    “I wonder why THE PARENTS never thought of asking their children in advance what they’d do if they found themselves on the wrong train.”

    One reason is they DON’T EXPECT their kids to be resourceful or independent.

    Lenore, I hope re-run this article a few times over the coming months. It is a real standout. There are so many good points that potential helicopter parents might learn from. This article could be a great opening scene of a movie: Free Range Kids – Or Not. The movie would showcase kids at two different schools – one, a Free Range group, the other a helpless, helicoptered bunch of fearmongers.
    It would be both a comedy and a drama.

  15. askbew April 30, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    We recently took a trip to Washington DC and used the Metro there. Our children were 11, 8 and 5 at the time. We spent time showing our children how the maps worked, discussing how you knew which escalator to descend so you were headed in the correct direction. We quized them on which line we needed, which direction, and which stop. We let them tell us when the next stop was ours. They LOVED it. They hurried ahead to scope out the maps and tell us where to go. We strongly advised them to WAIT to get on the train until we said yes. And then we gave these instructions:
    If you get on a train to soon and cannot get off – get off at the next stop AND WAIT – we will come to you. If you do not get on the train IN TIME and you are left behind. STAY WHERE YOU ARE – we will come back to you.
    Fortunately, these instructions were not needed – but because we are from a place where they have no experience, we thought they were good instructions – and had they “pulled a Maxine” I am confident it would all have worked out fine.

  16. Alex April 30, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    Awesome, awesome, AWESOME read. (I didn’t finish the article, mind…no need to read the depressing conclusion.) Am sending my kids to London on the next plane, fistful of cash so they can go ride the tube and practice their common sense. ;^) Hah!

  17. Reziac April 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Ha. My high school sent 20-some juniors to Europe every summer, accompanied by the World History teacher (a 50-something single male) and sometimes one student-teacher. A bunch of high school kids, barely chaperoned, loose all over western Europe. No one died or wound up in Siberia by mistake.

  18. QuicoT April 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    I just showed this to my wife, who’s from Japan. She told me how they did field trips back home.

    “On some more ambitious trips, we’d take the Shinkansen, the bullet train. Our teachers knew it was the end-of-the-world if we made a mistake and got on the wrong one – those things go so fast, in a very short time you’d be a very long way away. So before each Field Trip they’d actually make us drill getting on and off the train! This was an activity in its own right, usually done the day before. We’d go over exactly which train we had to get on when, how we’d double check it was the right train, the specific signal our teacher would give us to know to get on, the whole thing. Then we’d mime getting on. It seemed a little bit ridiculous to us at the time, but I guess looking back I understand why they did it.”

  19. Andrew April 30, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    Year 6 children are 10 or 11. Next year they will be in secondary school and many of them will be expected to find their own way to a much school each morning and back home in the afternoon. For children living in London, this is a severe failure of life skills.

    If the parents aren’t going to teach children how to behave in this sort of eventuality, perhaps the school should do (“What are you going to do if you get the wrong train?” Either get off at the first stop and wait, or get on the first train back and find us. Just make sure you know which!)

    Anyway, I would recommend the Piccadilly (purple) line from Kings Cross to South Kensington, for the Natural History Museum. More direct, and less chance to mistakenly take a train to Buckinghamshire! (The Circle line platform also has trains on other line that go to Hammersmith, or all the way to Uxbridge, Amersham, Chesham or Watford.)

  20. QuicoT April 30, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    And Mr. Newland,

    I think Lenore’s readers are *very* well acquainted with the heavy-handed expectation that we “accommodate” ourselves to a new culture of fear. If there’s one thing that brings Free Range Kids readers together is a refusal to passively accept these new expectations as morally neutral and, indeed, inevitable, which is very much the conclusion to your column.

    We come together under Lenore’s leadership specifically because, like her, we don’t believe the new climate of fear is morally acceptable. We’re here because we reject it.

    It’s wrong to ask people like you, or the teacher who organized that field trip this year, to accommodate yourselves to a culture of tabloid-inspired fear that’s unhinged from any reasonable estimation of risk, and tending to stunt the development of a whole generation of kids. Somebody has to push back – and while we understand it’s not reasonable to expect a school head to be at the forefront of that pushback, we also intuit from your writing that you grasp something important, something precious has been lost these last 20 years.

    We want it back. And adopting a posture of instinctive deference to hysterical fears is no way to get it back.

  21. Andrew April 30, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Oh, just noticed that story was from 2012!

  22. J- April 30, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    I’m surprised that the Mayor didn’t put the whole city under lockdown.

  23. Papilio April 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    If there’s 1 institute that can expect (demand) the exact same things of x-year-olds year after year after year, it’s a school. They are different x-year-olds every year and different parents every (few) year(s), so they can’t see the big picture as easily, but long-time teachers can make the decision to dumb down or not very conciously.
    You can use that position to give parents a little reality check (we’ve expected this from our Year 6 students for 30 years, so better make sure yours can, too), or go along in dumbing down, knowing that in the end, no one will know anything.

  24. Jen (P.) April 30, 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    I wish that instead of trying to explain himself to those parents Alan had instead told them the Maxine story to illustrate how they’re infantilizing their children (although that no doubt would open another can of worms – “You mean this has happened BEFORE?!!!)

    And while it’s an interesting point that the way people interact with teachers, doctors, etc. has changed a good bit in the last 20 years, it’s an odd conclusion to draw from this set of facts. The reason no parents complained after Maxine’s little side trip on the tube was not that they were intimidated by the teachers or didn’t want to question their authority. It’s because it was a non-issue; they didn’t even know about it because Maxine handled it. That’s what young teachers should note about this story. Not that parents want discourse.

  25. Will April 30, 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    I have taken my kids to numerous cities with subways. The rule always is, if you get separated, get off at the next stop, find the station agent (the person in the glass cube) or a police officer, and wait with them. Then, we will take the next train to come get you.

    It’s never happened once, but I feel like I’ve given the kids an answer to, “What do I do now?” And *that* is what the kids in the latter part of this story did not have access to.

    Now, can you anticipate every situation? No. But getting on the wrong train and getting separated (it also happens with elevators – the answer there is, stay in the elevator until a police officer, security guard, or parent finds you – elevators all have cameras these days) is common enough that it seems like a simple what-if to answer.

    Of course, these days, I worry that the police officer or station agent will call CPS while they’re waiting for me, because I LOST CONTROL OF MY CHILD FOR JUST A MOMENT AND ANYTHING COULD HAVE HAPPENED. But as long as the kid is safe, I guess I’ll deal with that fallout myself.

  26. Papilio April 30, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    @Jen (P): ““You mean this has happened BEFORE?!!!””

    Yes, we’ve had kids this stupid before…

  27. Steve Cournoyer April 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm #

    Maxine had what it takes and I’ll bet she’s pretty successful today….that later group…they’re heading for trouble in life w/o any problem solving skills.

  28. SOA April 30, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Very thought provoking. Thanks for posting this. Maxine is a smart little girl. If those kids have not had any experience on those trains, then you can understand why they did not know what to do. I don’t blame them. In an area with good public transit, I would use it and expect my kids as they grow to learn how to use it too.

    We don’t live in an area with good public transit so we don’t use it. My kids do know how to walk to school from our house and I walk with them every day.

    Our field trips are like that with oodles of parents going. We had maybe 3 or 4 parents go on field trips when I was a kid. Now we get easily 20 parents that come for one grade. I always go because I was told I had to to manage my son with autism. Which is fine. I enjoy going for the most part. If it was just my other son I probably would not go on all of them, just the ones I was excited about. But I do like going to also help the teacher out with managing all the hyper kids.

    We use buses to get to all field trips around here and the parents either follow in their cars or car pool and meet the bus there.

    Schools will cover their butts as much as possible so they do not have to deal with irate parents so if that means being more helicopter than so be it. Schools don’t want to deal with angry parents. And the lawsuits.

  29. Brian April 30, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    I must have hit the middle of this panic level :) In 10th grade, in 1999, I got to go to Israel as part of a science competition. To get there, I flew from Cleveland to one of the big New York airports by myself (I forget now if it was JFK, LGA, or EWR), and then was apparently supposed to find one of the group leaders at baggage claim and go with them to the El Al ticket counter. When I landed, I didn’t see anyone there. Rather than panicking, I grabbed my bags, looked up the airtrain information, and made my way to the El Al ticket counter by myself, found the group of kids, and started chatting with them.

    Apparently while I was navigating the airport, the group leaders who didn’t catch me at baggage claim started panicking. I heard that security was called, my mom was called…and somehow no one thought, for about an hour, to check at the El Al ticket counter with the rest of the group, where I had been the entire time!

  30. Ben April 30, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    Didn’t you ever consider to run a school, Lenore?
    I think it would offer a lot of learning opportunities regular schools wouldn’t…

  31. anonymous this time April 30, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Here’s an idea: since kids spend all their time indoors at home anyway, why not make the home’s primary focus the three Rs? And make the whole school day about play, exploring, and an official education in all the things kids USED to get in their “free time.”

    Just do it Topsy-Turvy. All the parents who love obsessing about quantitative sh*t will have a field day, they can be in control of it. And what a relief for the kids, to spend ALL DAY EVERY SCHOOL DAY doing things that are fun, meaningful, and actually support their development as humans.

  32. Let Her Eat Dirt April 30, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Alas, another one succumbs to the culture of paranoia…

    Having recently “lost” my six year-old in the grocery store, I know the temptation to freak out and swear never to do it again. But as terrifying and bewildering as getting lost can be for a kid (and a parent), I think there is so much we can learn from the experience, and I think it would be unfortunate if we never, ever, ever got lost.

    These kinds of frightening experiences build us into who we are. They teach us how to deal with crises and adversity and fear. They make us aware that things can go wrong and show us the value of preparing for the unexpected. But getting lost is about much more than just overcoming adversity and building character; it’s about embracing uncertainty as part of life itself. I don’t want my kids to freak out about getting lost or not having things go precisely according to plan; I want them to see it as an opportunity to find something exciting and different. Getting lost can help us see the world in a new way or explore something unexpected; it forces us to look up from our routine, to rethink our assumptions. Too bad more of this guy’s parents don’t see it that way.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    http://www.lethereatdirt.com
    A dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  33. Eliza April 30, 2014 at 9:14 pm #

    This reminds me of the time my daughter caught the wrong bus home from school. She had only had just started to catch the bus as she decided it was easier to sit on the bus for the short ride then spend 20min walking home. This day she was talking with her friends and didn’t read the bus number correctly. I get a phone call from her to tell me she will be late home because she got on the wrong bus. I was a bit concerned because she had only been catching the bus for about 2 weeks at the time and never discussed what to do when you get on the wrong bus. My daughter said she was ok because as soon as she realised she was on the wrong bus, she told the bus driver who told her where she needs to get off and where she can catch the right bus home. This is when the story gets disturbing. My reaction when my daughter got home was to laugh about the situation and that she actually has proven to me that she can be responsible with more freedom. Daughter mad a funny post on Facebook about the situation. Other parents reactions were to ring me or come up to me at sports games, shops etc to ask how we are both dealing with this scary incident and were worried about me letting my 13 year old at the time to still be able to catch a bus by herself and they can’t understand why my daughter is not scared about catching a bus.

  34. BethinMd May 1, 2014 at 12:58 am #

    I was 6 years old when I got separated from my field trip group when we were visiting a major city museum. When I realized I was lost, I marched myself over to the nearest information desk staffed with important looking adults and asked for help. They found my teacher in about 10 min with little panic. I had simply done what I had been taught by my parents and teachers. In a scary situation, keep a clear head and look for the people in charge.

  35. Cassie May 1, 2014 at 2:35 am #

    Great article!!

  36. Bostonian May 1, 2014 at 5:49 am #

    Here in Boston, a proposal to stop school busing 7th and 8th graders around the city and just give them a public transit pass is raising eyebrows. The 7th graders I know already take the train to school instead of the yellow bus because it’s faster and there’s less monkey business.

    I agree with Mr. Newland that Lenore misstated the conclusion of his piece. It’s not that schools must accommodate a higher fear level, it’s that the requirement of being a professional in this day and age is not to push unilateral unquestionable mandates on your clients. Saying “shut up, there was never a problem” to the parents would have been a breach of professional demeanor. Irrational fear among parents, and learned helplessness among children, should be a subject of dialogue, not dismissed so easily.

    Maybe Mr. Newland could push for a special module on “London’s Transit System – History and Practicum” in which he teaches students to take the train by themselves for extra credit or a shiny ribbon.

  37. Sarah May 1, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    Side note – my kid’s school requires that parent goes on field trips for EVERY KID. That’s right, a 1:1 ratio.
    Whatever happened to chaperones? A parent for every 5-6 kids? No, one adult per kid. Talk about sucking all the fun out of a field trip.

  38. Havva May 1, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    @ Bostonian
    Perhaps the folks looking at that for Boston, could take a look at DC public school’s transit for reassurance/ideas. For all the things wrong with public schools in DC; one thing they do right is give the kids metro cards. Only special needs kids get a bus, and that goes for all ages. I’ve heard from locals of a kid as young as 6 crossing town to get to a magnet school on her own. The kids mix with commuters on public transit. It is mostly middle school age and higher on the trains since elementary is more localized. And despite the stereotype of teens, they all seem to do a fine job at behaving appropriately. I dare say there are less bullying issues, as I have seen kids easily ditch other kids who were bothering them in crowded station. When I was bussed while on, or while waiting for, the bus were always the most dangerous times.

  39. Uly May 1, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Will: that’s our rule too, except the kids aren’t supposed to look for a cop unless they feel particularly unsafe. The last thing we want if we get separated is for the girls to start wandering around getting further away from the platform. They’re responsible enough to sit by themselves ten minutes while the rest of us loop back to pick them up.

    Sarah: forget fun, what about kids with two working parents? Or don’t those exist at your school?

  40. Ann May 1, 2014 at 9:40 am #

    I want my kids to be Maxine. Accidents happen. We get separated from friends/parents/teachers on occasion. Things don’t always work out as planned. I want my kids to be the ones who have enough sense, knowledge, experience, and confidence to figure out the solution on their own. I loved this piece, but I hate that people think that *every* accident or risk should be prevented or mitigated. Sure, perhaps something could have been done to ensure those girls didn’t get on the train at the wrong time, but you know what… they have learned a lesson about listening to their teacher, and maybe they will behave better the next time. Life is all about learning lessons, and we need to let them learn the hard way sometimes.

  41. Emily May 1, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    @Sarah–Really, one adult for every kid? What about parents who have to work? What if there’s a pair of siblings in the class (maybe twins, or siblings a year apart in a split class), and the other parent has to work? In that case, would one adult suffice for both siblings? Or, what about a single parent with more than one child, and two or more siblings, in different classes, have a field trip on the same day? What if the single parent simply can’t get off work? Not everyone has a network of babysitters, parents, family friends, and other “safe adults” who can swoop in and babysit or chaperone field trips at a moment’s notice. This rule seems like it would prevent a lot of kids from participating in a lot of field trips. That’s a shame, because field trips are the highlight of school for most kids.

  42. Jen (P.) May 1, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    @Bostonian – I don’t think Lenore or anyone else was suggesting Mr. Newland should have imposed a “unilateral unquestionable mandate” or told the parents, “shut up, there was never a problem.” But according to Mr. Newland, “The point of this story is change. It illustrates how the teaching profession you are entering today will be a different ‘place’ in ten, fifteen, twenty years time. The relationship between a profession and its client group – and in our case that’s children and parents – is constantly transforming. That is something we all have to accommodate.”

    My issue with Mr. Newland’s conclusion is not that he’s willing to have a “dialogue” with the parents of his students. That’s all well and good. I take issue with his apparent willingness to accept the truly significant change described in his story (the difference between Maxine and the kids who more recently got on the wrong train) as the new norm. I think as an educator he should be more concerned about that development than the one in the relationship between teachers and their “client group.”

  43. Sarah May 1, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    On the 1:1 ratio thing. Yes, the logistics of having to take a day off and all of the other questions you guys raised are my main argument, the hovering, fun-sucking aspect seemed more relevant to free-range parenting. My husband and I both work and yes, it is an issue.

    In any case, Lenore, yes, this is a public, Title I school in Maryland. I have actually never looked into the official written policy, all I know is that I get the notice home from class with the date and the statement “every child must have a parent accompany them”. Last year, for the 3rd grade trip they went to a cavern about an hour away. I talked to my son’s teacher, told her that it would be difficult for my husband or I to get the day off, and she agreed to take him without a parent. My son told me he was one of two kids without a parent. I know in the past kids have had to miss field trips because no one can go. I just got a notice about a field trip in June for 4th grade with two options: check one – “I will be accompanying my child on the trip” or “my child will not be going on the trip”. It’s an hour away on a Thursday. Now, they have gone on smaller, shorter field trips without this requirement, this has only applied to the big end of the year field trip.

  44. Jen (P.) May 1, 2014 at 11:16 am #

    Wow, Sarah, that is just bizarre.

    They limit the number of parents who can go on field trips in our district. At the elementary level (which are really the only kids who go on field trips; our 7th graders go to an overnight camp, which is chaperoned by teachers and a few parents, and the 8th graders do a D.C. trip, no parents allowed), they draw names out of a hat to pick the chaperones if there are more volunteers than they need, which is usually the case. And I can only think of one field trip where they allowed parents who weren’t chosen as chaperones to meet them at the destination (instead of riding the bus with the kids). We live in an area with a high level of parent involvement, and still there would be outrage if parents were told their kids couldn’t go on a field trip without them.

  45. Papilio May 1, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    @Sarah: So if you’re a single parent with a twin…?

  46. Sarah May 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    @Papilio – The 1:1 ratio was to get the point across, and like I said, exceptions have been made (maybe that depends on the teacher?), and I don’t know that this is actually a set in stone written policy. It has just been the requirement for the three end-of-the-year field trips my kids have been a part of so far. There are a lot of what if’s, I assume a single parent with two kids could chaperone both their kids.

    I’m glad I posted about this here, I was thinking this may have become the norm around the country, I’m glad to hear that it’s not.

    Another side note: the parent who is required to come is also required to pay $18 for the trip, AND required to ride the bus. The kid’s fee is covered by PTA. So obviously this raises more questions, what if the parent can’t afford it?

  47. anonymous mom May 1, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    In fairness to the original author, I don’t really see what options he has other than caving to parents’ increasingly-irrational views.

    But, it is irrational. I know that somebody here (I wish I could remember who!) has talked about the therapy her daughter has for anxiety and how a lot of this paranoia resembles the type of cognitive distortions her therapist is teaching her to counter. I could not agree more. I have panic disorder, and it’s amazing how much of the thinking of contemporary parents is completely irrational and distorted. It is simply not healthy to think or to live this way.

  48. A Dad May 1, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

    Maxine is my hero.

    I wonder what she is doing today?

  49. Stephanie May 1, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Lots of parents go on field trips with my kids’ classes too. Most are surprised I don’t generally go, since I work from home and have the flexibility to do so. I tried going once with my son’s class because it was more of a play day at a local park, so it sounded fun. It was a big mistake for me to go. He had less fun with me there than he would have if he had gone without me. Being a shy kid, he used my presence as a reason to not interact with his various friends. It got bad enough that we signed out early and went home. It has been a few years, and I still won’t go on a field trip with his class, and he has had a blast on every one that I haven’t attended.

    It may be harder to resist with my youngest, although that may be all the more reason to not go with her class on field trips. She starts kindergarten in the fall, and is still much too impulsive. We were at a family event at a park near the beach recently, and my husband and I took the older kids to check out the tide pools. My youngest didn’t want to come, so I asked one of my husband’s cousins to watch my youngest. Suffice it to say the cousin didn’t watch her, and when my youngest tripped while chasing a bird, a total stranger helped her go look for me. I was maybe a quarter of the way back when I came across my daughter walking with a total stranger looking for me, when there had been at least two dozen family members in the general area when she fell. Needless to say, my daughter and the cousin had a bit of a discussion with me. But I also emphasized to my daughter that while she shouldn’t have gone off with the stranger, most are perfectly nice people who only want to help… just have them help her to the nearby family members in the future, not take her well away from them.

  50. Hels May 2, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    My school did not have a swimming pool, but swimming lessons were mandatory for second graders (8 year olds). So our teacher took all 32 of us all by herself, with no other adults present, to the swimming pool contracted by the school, which was a 15-minute walk and then a 20-minute tram ride away – there and back. Not once was any of us lost or had any problems whatsover. We chatted, we argued, we were sometimes possibly annoying other passengers with our hubbub, (though there usually weren’t more than a handful at that very off-peak time) but what I remember the most is those who had a snack with them sharing with those who did not – and us testing each other on multiplication tables to pass the time. I don’t think it would even be legal in the US today for one teacher to mind 32 kids all by herself… she was an older lady too, just a couple years shy of retirement, so not someone who could chase after a kid.

  51. Alan Newland May 5, 2014 at 2:29 am #

    Wow! What a wonderful stream of discussion about my piece – thank you all so much. I have really enjoyed reading them.

    Just to clarify something – the original Maxine incident took place when I first started teaching in the autumn of 1979 – 35 years ago. The second incident with the four girls took place in the summer of 1999 – twenty later (many people mis-interpret the story and think the Maxine incident took place 20 years ago).

    So of course, no mobile / cell phones, not even in 1999 really when in this country they still weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now of course – and certainly not with children.

    I take QuicoT’s point that we have to push back – I agree with that and urge teacher trainees to do it but I agree with Bostonian’s point too – that the story and its conclusion reflects an expectation we all have these days of dialogue with professional – even when we are in the position of being the “client” and the “lay” person.

    We rightfully expect dialogue – even when it is challenging – with all kinds of professionals these days. Look at how the relationship with for example, the medical profession has gone through the same change. Thirty years ago, doctors were treated like “gods” – most of us would sit and be happy that the “great oracle” would pass judgment on our ailments and we would unquestioningly accept their opinion and judgment – no-one would dare challenge the view or opinion of doctors (not in the UK anyway). Now, we expect to be fully consulted at every stage of treatment.

    But I have loved reading the exchange of views here – so Lenore, thank you again for featuring my piece. I especially liked the suggestion that a movie be made out of the incident! So, if Steven Spielberg is reading… please get in touch…!

  52. Dan May 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    When I was on a scout camp in London we were using the tube a lot, given the high risk of something like this happening (with us it was the one kid not paying attention who got left behind on the platform) we had a simple plan for dealing with it…..

    If you find yourself on a train without the rest of the group get off at the next station and wait, a leader will be along shortly, if you get left behind get on the next train for 1 stop where the rest of the group will be waiting for you (1 adult would also double back to be on the safe side)

  53. Nan May 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    I know this is an older post, but I have to comment. I have kids that are 2nd and 4th. They have gone on year end field trips. For Kindergarten, any parent that wanted to attend could come to the field trip. They went to a Dinosaur Park, di did a few structured things and then if parents were around, they could enjoy the musuem and grounds for as long as they wanted and could take the child home when they wanted. I went with each of them for that, because they wanted me to and I figured if the teacher didn’t have to take care of keeping 20ish 5 year olds it would make it easier for her.

    Anyway, I haven’t gone on any field trips with the kids since. They usually ask for a couple parent volunteers to go with the class.

    I let my kids go, but I’ll tell you the truth. There is a part of me that is scared to let them go. Having my child one hour away from me having to rely on them to listen to the teacher and not get lost worries me (I do have mild anxiety). But everytime I let them go on the trips, it gets a little easier each time. Because I trust them and let them grow and learn to handle life without me. There is a part of me that wants to keep my kids with me forever and not let them grow up or be out of my sight. But that isn’t possible and that isn’t fair to the kids. So I tell that voice to back off and let the kids grow up and learn how to handle life without mom.

    And you know what? I’ve got some pretty trust worthy kids. No, they aren’t perfect, but I let them show me they can handle certain things and then I let the “apron strings” go a little more until it’s time to cut them.

    I love this blog and it has really helped me with my anxiety about my kids. They have to grow up and I’ve got to let them. No helicoptering (or at least very little).

    (Long comment, sorry.)

  54. Anne May 9, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    I remember a trip to London nearly 20 years ago, I was 12 and one of the other teachers at my Mom’s school took me on a school trip with her year 9 students (about 15 year olds). So off we went 22 teens, 1 teacher and one mother, taking a coach across several countries and the channel from Germany to London. The teacher took us on our first tube ride and showed us how to work it out, handed everyone their 3 day tickets and from then on we were supposed to work it out in our groups of 3 or more students – and one group of two, no one wanted to hang with me and the teachers daughter we had with us. Including little old 12 year old me. In a foreign country with a different language that we had in school for a few years (2 1/2 in my case) and we all made it. Easily.
    Yes we lost a student for a few hours but the only reason for any concern was the fact that our coach left that afternoon and as we had not specifically booked it for our group it would not wait for our lost student – no one got afraid, hysteric or called the cops, stuff like that happens when travelling and we lost her for a couple of hours.
    Said student found the pick up point early found our bus driver and everything went fine, because we were all well trained in taking care of ourselves
    At 10 I sometimes took a trainride to visit friends who moved and then a bus or a walk for the last little bit. Okay it was only a 20 Minutes train ride, and a 15 minutes tram ride to the train station, but still. We biked or walked from the village with the trainstation to the tiny village they lived in. We walked all across a forest from there to the next public swimming pool in summer – and no one ever worried about us.
    I was 13 when I first travelled from one end of the country to the other alone by train changing trains 3 times and no one got scared for me or screamed child neglect – and I got there with no trouble, and back home too.
    Why are kids nowadays so helpless?
    I walked the half a kilometre to the kindergarten with a neighbours child alone when we were 4. – Ok we only had to cross a single road, but can you imagine that now?