Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where is the boost for the "bus kids"? Buses again serve as potent symbol of inequality in Silicon Valley

In The Bus Kids: Children's Experiences with Voluntary Desegregation, Ira W. Lit follows the lives of a group of children who are bused from their homes in a low income minority community to the privileged school district on the other side of the freeway. His book shines a light on how school busing between districts for the purposes of desegregation impacts the children who are its intended beneficiaries.

The pseudonymous school district profiled in Lit's book is the one my own children attend, and of late I have noticed that the rickety yellow school buses that pull up each day to collect the most disadvantaged children in our school have been joined by a very different type of bus service. This service is the children's equivalent of the infamous Google (also Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft) buses that fly up and down 101, delivering engineers in air conditioned and wifi connected comfort from their homes in San Francisco to lucrative jobs in Silicon Valley.

The brand new Mercedes buses, promoted as a concierge service for children, are plastered with the company name "Boost". Ironically they are being marketed to the parents of children who least need a boost but are most likely to be given one every step of the way.

The Boost buses deliver children from school to enriching after school activities and home again. During the commute they are rescued from the dangers of boredom by the presence of on bus entertainers. All for $25 a ride and of course, this being Silicon Valley, booked via an app.

Lit writes poignantly of the particular traumas that children experience while riding the yellow school bus, accompanied only by a driver who cannot possibly supervise, let alone protect, entertain or even educate her charges while driving. And while the difficulties that the children Lit profiles in his book are not unique - many children in the US ride the bus to and from school each day - that bus trip serves to compound the pre-existing disadvantages these children have compared to their counterparts who live within the school district.

The experience of riding the yellow school bus fis the very opposite of the boost these children so badly need. And while it is only one aspect of their school day, it is one that is for the most part completely overlooked when examining the achievement gap between the "bus kids" and their classroom peers who by contrast arrive at school each day accompanied by a parent and with a back pack full to overflowing with inherited social, educational and financial capital.

Just as the much protested Google buses are more fairly characterized as a symbol rather than the cause of income inequality and the accompanying housing crisis in San Francisco and the Bay Area, the Boost buses will not impact the children who are bused each day from the other side of the freeway on rickety yellow buses. They just serve as a particularly stark reminder of the gross inequality that we seem to have become far too comfortable with as a community.

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