Teach your children well

| July 08, 2008

John Latta
Executive Editor
jlatta@eTrucker.com

Here’s an idea with something of a “Eureka!” feeling about it. It’s a simple, fun thing for children to do. And it has the potential to help future generations escape the stereotype trap that conditions so many people to be uneasy around trucks and truckers.

I’m talking about a project done by kindergarten children at a South Carolina elementary school. It was several years ago and it seems to have been a one-off class assignment, but the children and their teacher may have shown us a way to a safer, more harmonious future between four-wheeler drivers and truckers out on America’s roads.

Called The Truck Project, the whole thing kicked into overdrive when the teacher brought an old tire from a Mack to school. The youngsters had been talking about transportation in general and been visited by a fire truck and a motorcycle, but the huge tire, towering over the 5-year-olds, was “the turning point,” according to the teacher. The kids were enthralled, and it happened that the teacher’s mother worked for a local trucking company. A field trip was arranged (although these days they seemed to be called a “field experience”). The company president and some other executives, and a freshly shined big rig, were waiting.

The children clambered over the big rig and the company yard and offices, asked their questions and began sketching. Some drew the inside of the cab, some outside and some under it. Back at school cardboard was used for the truck frame, with the children drawing and the teacher cutting. Extra care was taken to ensure the hood would open and shut. Circular cardboard pieces made wheels and after a number of tries, they were attached so they turned like real wheels. The truck was no cardboard cutout – it featured a grille, engine, steering wheel (that turned), bunk, fifth wheel, mud flaps, tail lights, side mirrors and a real horn (borrowed from a bicycle). Finished, it was a three-dimensional scale model, 4 feet high and 6 feet long. At the same time the children began setting up a company operation complete with a fuel tank, a fuel pump (with numbers that turned so prices could rise – how clairvoyant!), tool boxes, money and (showing you just how alert they’d been on their field experience) forms. Then the children toured the school and presented their work to other classes, videotaping their show for parents at home.

The children who worked on this project are now in their mid teens, a couple of years away from their driving licenses. When I saw the project, the first thing I thought was how much more aware they will be when they roll along roads with big trucks. More confident, too, I think, less likely to do something risky as many other newly-minted but unaware drivers might do around a tractor-trailer on an interstate. There’s a good chance many of their old schoolmates will be safer drivers around big rigs, too. Perhaps many of the parents who watched the videos have been safer around you for some years now.

With funding for driver’s education classes taking a beating in recent years, a lot of new drivers have little or no idea how to drive safely around big rigs on the highway. A simple, fun class project when the students are little might change that.

And since The Truck Project children also visited the company offices and then built their own company, even though it was seen through 5-year-old eyes, there is also every chance that as they grow up they will remain aware just how hard it is to make a living as a trucker. At the same time they may also recall when they hit the stores that those shelves are only full because a truck delivered the merchandise.

So much of the “they’re OK, I suppose, but I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one” stereotyping that affects drivers comes not from a learned fear or dislike but from a vacuum into which entertainment and television news industry myths and politicians’ throwaway lines have seeped. I’m not thinking these students will grow to be trucking groupies or hauling company presidents. But I am thinking that in addition to being safer around you on the blacktop, they are also more likely to wave to you and say hi if they run into you in a parking lot.

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