Well, I don't think that was ever in question. I think the question has always been, what horrible things might happen to Young Children (let's go with 8 and under, cause that's a popular cutoff, procedurally) while they are walking independently. The things I remember from my experience of this include, but are not limited to: getting lost, being hassled by other children, including being pushed into the road, being hit by a car (didn't happen to me, did know of it happening to other children in the neighborhood), disappearing en route (didn't know of anyone in the neighborhood, did read articles about that happening) and never being seen again. As recently as 1979, we either (a) were spectacularly ignorant that this kind of bad thing could happen (b) didn't care or (c) didn't realize that anything could be done about it. Between 1979 and now, we've figured out that something could be done about it, and we did, and now we have people complaining about the results.
One of the points raised is that crime is down across the board vs 1979. Yes, it is, in part because we put a stop to a lot of child rearing practices that lead to a life of crime and we also provided a lot of supervision for both victims and potential perpetrators. Also, readily available birth control/abortion, among other things.
I let my kids do a variety of things by themselves and I let them do other things as long as there is an responsible adult providing supervision. If I go for a walk (1 mile) around the block with my son, I'll let him walk back alone if he gets sick of it, or proceed along on his own ahead of me if he's on a bike or scooter, if I judge the distance to be on the order of a third of a mile or a quarter mile or thereabouts. I do this knowing he has a safe destination and I'll be along in a bit. I don't let him leave the house to go around the block entirely by himself. He's not the best example (he's over 8, and has special needs), but I've found that this particular compromise generates no concern from the neighbors and that's sort of my criteria for Are My Parenting Values Aligned With Those Of People Who I Respect. This is the criteria being violated by free range parents, as near as I can tell, and violating the finer sensibilities of some of the neighbors is of course perfectly fine for some values of "finer sensibilities" (I've blogged about some of these, usually when someone in a car stopped in the middle of the road to object to us riding our bikes or playing on the sidewalk, and not because they wanted us in the road. They just thought even bikes on the sidewalk were too unsafe. Or playing on the sidewalk. Which is just really bizarre.).
Sometimes, however, if you have been violating the finer sensibilities of some of the neighbors for a while, you can get into a lot of trouble. Apparently, one of those particularly awful rugby songs has finally gotten some of what it has so richly deserved.
Ryan's piece is characteristic of people who did something as part of a pack while drunk that they (I'm not saying _she_, I'm saying the tone is typical) would never do sober and/or alone. The drunken pack gets away with it for a long time (they're drunk and they're a pack), especially if it is labeled "tradition". However, as she rightly notes, we increasingly don't allow this kind of thing if it's racist, altho we're pretty a-o-good with horrifyingly anti-women messages. And while there is Outrage when people say, Hey I'm Not A Racist, somehow if you're willing to claim to be a Feminist, some will back down and think it's okay to describe sexually violating a dead sex worker's body found by the side of a road. In song. As a drunken pack.
Between my two marriages, I dated a variety of men and at least one woman. And there was a brief period where I kept dating people who turned out to play Ultimate Frisbee, which is sort of like Rugby, but for science and math nerds. And they sang this kind of song. I found it all pretty horrible, and there was a lot of pressure on me to not find it pretty horrible or at least to pretend that it was okay, and I am ashamed to say that I did not have the backbone to keep telling people to knock that the fuck right off or they were never having sex with me again. I wish I had. I'm happy to hear this team was suspended. I don't blame Ryan for not having the gumption to vociferously and loudly express Outrage for the lyrics of this horrifying song. Because I was that person too, in 2000-2003 time frame.
But ya know, it was _so worth it_ to quit hanging out with those bozos, because they drank too much, and they were prone to cheating, and they didn't hold their liquor all that well (as in: vomited on my car. I _did_ have the gumption to insist he help clean it up the next morning). Fundamentally, if you belong to a culture like this, that's your future if you aren't careful, so think long and hard when you're singing about necrophilia, because the hardening of your heart that is required to gleefully participate in that is not going to look any better on you as you get older.
ETA: Totally forgot to include this story! I've been talking about the unattended kid scenario with other people, and the stories that come up! Our sitter told this incredible story about her mother walking home and having a bad feeling, looking back and seeing a car coming up along the road, man standing on the running board (this would have been in the 1930s) with an arm reaching out to grab her. She ran and ran and ran and, obvs, survived to have kids altho she has since passed may she rest in peace. Not too long after this incident, the family moved to a wealthier neighborhood, but her daughter lived in this same area a generation later and was sent by her mother (now grown) a quarter mile or more to the store on occasion, crossing some busy streets along the way. She's got some questions about what her mom was thinking! And this was all Quite A While Before 1979.
ETA: My sister tells me, and some googling confirms, that schools are much more formal about their walking students. Kids aren't allowed to walk to or from school alone, generally, until about 2nd grade (they either have to have a buddy or a parent has to meet them, varying by school district). A lot of districts (I believe that's how it works here) transport _everyone_ or at least offer to do so. And honestly, you don't need to see many stories like this to think that's maybe a good idea:
Because even car dropoff has problems.
But this is a great example of what people are trying to avoid:
8 year old and 9 year old (I think siblings), on the sidewalk, hit by a parked car leaving a no-parking zone. Ambulance for one, mother transported the other. Driver of the vehicle was an 18 year old new driver picking up a younger sister (honestly, it's always the parent/older sibling driver hitting somebody's else's kid either just dropped off or a walker/biker -- I've seen a lot of these stories and it's like there is a template for this tragedy, and buses kinda fix it, altho I'm sure Free Range Parenting types would rather just ban cars. I sort of like that solution, but don't think it is feasible).
Well, occasionally the driver is actually the parent of the kid, but that's rarer:
In this particularly tragic case, the kids on bikes were really seriously injured. Driver had a criminal record and left the scene, but was identified. As per usual, a parent with kids of his own in the back.
Googling "elementary school student struck by car" (not in quotes) will find you an endless stream of these stories.
When you do the same thing with "bus" you get a very different array of stories, so apparently by professionalizing the driver and creating rigid protocols for getting on and off of buses, we've eliminated the worst of that problem. The risk with buses is the usual vehicle risk: they hit each other and elements of the environment. Also, sometimes horrible people shoot at them, but that's a whole other issue.
There are (again, much more rare) occasions when drivers violate the well-developed STOP IF THERE IS A STOPPED SCHOOL BUS rule:
There are _really_ old law cases about cars driving around omnibuses and similar and killing adults who were embarking/disembarking, that basically didn't find a driver at fault for doing things that are utterly hair-raising to anyone accustomed to the protocol. WHICH IS WHY WE PASSED THESE FUCKING LAWS.
This scenario is a lot less common: after school, kid more or less in front of his own house after riding the bus home from school, not in the road (not clear if there is a sidewalk proper), 10 years old. I think we'd all agree this should be safe? And yet it wasn't. Presumably it is this kind of problem that causes drivers to tell me not to let my kids play on the sidewalk in front of the house.
21 year old female driver, so presumably not driving her own kids home from school.