Clippings: Life lessons from the school bus

After my first day of kindergarten in September of 2000, I got off of the school bus and exclaimed to my mother, “I saw parts of Ferrisburgh that I have never seen before.”
While this is highly unlikely, considering I didn’t grow up entirely under a rock, my claim calls to mind Robert Fulghum’s popular collection of essays titled “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” While I have honestly never read the book, I know that it is often quoted and has served as a model for other works about what constitutes valuable knowledge.
As a 19-year-old college student who is just barely nurturing enough to keep a cactus alive, I probably have no business doling out parenting advice. However, I think that everything I’ve really needed to know about humans, I have learned on a bus. And although the prospect of having my own child is currently about as appealing as the prospect of losing a limb, if I ever have a child that kid better believe it’s riding the school bus. I think that all kids should.
1. The first lesson bus riders learn is simple: be punctual. The bus arrived at the end of my driveway every day at approximately 7:10 a.m. Thanks almost entirely to my mother, I generally managed to scramble out to the street in time. Punctuality is an important trait to develop, and in few instances is its importance more clear than on a kindergartener’s daily sprint to the school bus.
2. The school bus is also an incubator for creativity. During a brief stint in the back of the bus as a kindergartener, I developed a vocabulary so colorful that I could keep up with the 14-year-old boys. At my bus driver’s request, I subsequently returned to the front of the bus with the little kids after a few days. While parents, including my own, may not see the merits of this experience, I firmly believe that a small, healthy dose of corruption gives kids a hint of street smarts that are otherwise hard to cultivate on the winding dirt roads of rural Addison County.
3. The school bus also teaches us how to deal with a wide variety of people. It is remarkable how different the children on any given bus route are from one another. After a decade or so of verbal altercations, shifting allegiances and hair pulling, I found that most of us settled into a relatively peaceful coexistence. Sharing a small, rolling box with your peers as you grow up may not be a surefire way to friendship, but eventually everyone learns that civility is the easiest way to deal with people.
4. The bus teaches us about human interactions. A school bus may be fairly considered a microcosm of society, a smelly dystopia of friends, foe, love, loss and motion sickness. During my time on the bus I watched a boy dump Mountain Dew down a girl’s white T-shirt, a screaming match between two moms, and plenty of horrifying public displays of affection. Our bus once hit a full-grown turkey that smashed our windshield and we got pulled out of snow banks by snowplows on multiple occasions. I also watched lifelong friendships blossom, seasons change, and gangly little kids stretch taller into more mature, contemplative adults. No matter where you sit on the bus, it’s a front row seat for fascinating social observation.
Although I now walk to and from my classes at college, my education with buses is not over. A recent trip from Boston to Burlington on the Megabus reminded me just how much of a learning experience public transportation can be.
The bus ended up being about five hours late to pick us up, causing my fellow travelers much aggravation. We gathered in a dejected clump on the floor of Boston’s South Station, sighing at our iPhones and scouring the Internet for alternative ways to get home. From this common misfortune arose conversation, first complaining and then laugher. The hours passed more quickly once a few UVM guys started playing Uno with a 7-year-old and his father and several of us huddled around a screen to watch a World Cup game.
As is always the case on a bus, we were a wide spectrum of people, and we soon developed solidarity reminiscent of “The Breakfast Club.” When we finally pulled into Burlington, the passengers clapped and many exchanged kind words or phone numbers. We parted ways, and as I always do when I get off a bus, I felt I had learned a little bit more about the human species. It also re-enforced something I’d already figured out: We’re all generally pretty decent. 

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