09 May 2017

How To Corrupt The Young: Let Their Teachers Ride Bikes To School

According to today's Google Doodle (Can you beat it as a source?), today is Teachers' Day.

As it happens, I teach in a college.  So, people often conflate me with teachers, especially when they complain about the inadequate skills and manners of young people today.   And they assume that I am on the same schedule as their local schools, or ask me questions about tests, programs and other things of which I am completely unfamilar.

 I am not ashamed to be associated with pedagogues in high schools, middle schools and elementary schools, and I feel the best of them are criminally underpaid.  Also, I feel they are unfairly blamed for much of what is "wrong" with "society".  There are bad ones, to be sure.  But the majority I've known are smart, hardworking people who are doing the best they can with limited resources, clueless or hostile administrators, mandates that have nothing to do with educating young people and with students who, perhaps, didn't get enough food, sleep or good parenting.

How educators influence young people can be debated, but their influence cannot be denied.  Thus, school boards have codes of conduct or behavior for their teachers.  Of course, what is considered "proper" or "moral" has changed over the past century.

For example, during the first Bike Boom of the 1890s. some feared that the sight of women on bicycles would corrupt young people.  There are folks (men, mainly) who still believe such things:  one of my colleagues, who hails from Ethiopia, has never ridden a bicycle because girls and females were kept away from them.  The reason, she said, is that the sight of a woman pumping her legs is seen as "provocative."

But, back in 1895, people didn't have to come from conservative religious societies in order to harbor such notions.  Although most of Long Island was still rural, it was hardly comparable to, say, Saudi Arabia.  Even so, in June of that year, the Long Island School Board issued a stern directive to its female teachers:  Stop Riding Bicycles.  As Board member William Sutter explained to the New York Sun:

   We as the trustees are responsible to the public for the conduct of the schools [and] the morals of the pupils.  I consider that for our boys and girls to see their women teachers ride up to the school door every day and dismount from a bicycle is conducive to the creation of immoral thoughts."

Hmm...Some of my students have seen me ride to school.  I wonder what "immoral thoughts" are fermenting in their heads.  Maybe I'm corrupting young people in ways I never realized!


  1. But if you coast up to the door and don't pump your legs, the kids should be OK.

  2. Roger--That's what I was thinking. Apparently, Mr. Sutter didn't see it that way.

  3. Maybe the trustee feared that this kind of thing would happen if women were allowed to ride bikes. http://www.foldingcyclist.com/European-folding-bike-postcard.html

  4. MT--Maybe she was teaching anatomy and physiology. ;-)