April 30, 2015

School bus driver bans reading, because books are dangerous


This picture represents the unknown number of potential book-related child injuries. (via Flickr)

This picture represents the unknown number of potential book-related child injuries. (via Flickr)

It’s no secret that books are dangerous, and that they pose a threat young students. For every student whose life is saved by a book, there are dozens more innocent victims of book-related danger. Books are hazards! They’re flammable! And probably obscene! Wake up, sheeple!

Thankfully, a Canadian school district is finally taking action against books. If they were American, they would just ban books from the school library, but instead they’re banning them from the school bus. CBC News reports:

An eight-year-old girl in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. was told she’s no longer allowed to read books on the school bus because it poses a risk to the safety of other students.

Sarah Auger loves reading and used to enjoy using her 20-minute ride to and from school to read for pleasure. But recently, her bus driver told her she had to stop.

She says she was told reading posed a risk to other students on the bus. He suggested they might stand up to see what she was reading, or she might poke herself in the eye with the corners of the book.

The school bus company stands behind their hero driver, asking everyone to please think of the children.

Nancy Ménard, director of operations at Autobus Richelieu, said students are prohibited not just to take out books on the bus, but other objects too — such as toys and electronic devices.

“We prefer that people don’t take things out of their bags,” she said Thursday. “Our only goal is to make sure students are safe.”

And while Auger’s father is firmly opposed to this rule, calling it “stupid and useless”, the school has come down on the side of its bus driver. In a statement released in French but translated into English via the power of Google, the school board reiterates that if you can’t dodge a flying iPhone or poutine knife or whatever else Canadian students carry to school, then you sure as hell can’t dodge a book.

The School Board provides a framework and rules for marking situations that may occur during the transportation of students.

These rules also specify that personal effects of students must remain in a bag with closure to prevent objects lie scattered in the aisles and under the seats, which can pose a security risk, especially in respect to children ranging in age from four to twelve years in preschool and elementary.

The driver is the Master of his vehicle. Attention must be focused on his conduct. He is the best judge of what is appropriate based on several criteria, including the age of the students, their number and the journey to perform.

Putting aside the fact that Google Translate can turn a bland press release into amazing poetry, let’s consider the facts. Bus drivers are the protectors of dozens of screaming children whom they must ferry in a giant metal box, fueled by explosives, across punishingly hard asphalt. And as Canadian federal regulations for school buses demand soft, energy-absorbing seats and discourage the use of seat belts, drivers must to improvise if they hope to keep those children alive. But they don’t have time to check every child for dangerous objects! They can’t be yelling “brace!” every time they tap the brakes!

And if there’s one thing everybody knows about children, it’s that they are reflexively driven to reading over another child’s shoulder. They will tear through five-point restraints and bend steel bars if they have to in order to read over another child’s shoulder. It is the strongest force known to man. Assuming that the driver has comes to a sudden stop, that copy of The Shipping News or The Moxy Fruvous Companion, or whatever else Canadian children read, well it might as well be a Red Ryder BB Gun.

The Canada Safety Council (which sounds like an Arcade Fire side project but somehow is not) agrees.

Raynald Marchand, general manager of programs for the Ottawa-based Canada Safety Council, said it likely comes down to making things simpler and safer for everyone.

“I don’t think it has much to do with reading on the bus,” Marchand said. “I think it has to do with keeping things in the bag and the bag under the seat.”

And this is the core issue. This isn’t about books. If students were expected to carry, read, and study live Claymore mines, then they would be tempted to take those out on the bus, and that would be a really bad idea. But they’re expected to carry, read, and study books, so that’s the object that poses danger. The driver doesn’t claim to have witnessed any injuries from flying books in his multi-decade career of bus driving, which means that it’s definitely due to happen and that he probably acted just in time.

So if you’re worried about those socially awkward students who love reading because maybe don’t have a lot of friends and they prefer to spend their precious free moments (like lunchtime, and recess, and the bus ride) finding peace in the escape of books so that one day they can move to New York and talk about books all day and be a cool kid and work for an independent press, well, they’re just going to have to sit silently with their hands folded, staring out the bus window. It’s better to be a sad lonely geek with two intact corneas than a happy nerd with companionship and an eyepatch.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.