Woodrow Wilson

Department of Politics

Len Schoppa Talks the Walk

March 18, 2016

Leonard Schoppa and Skye Fitzgerald screened their new documentary, “The Slow Walk Home” for an enthusiastic crowd of city planners, firefighters, pedestrians, bicyclists, parents, and activists. What kind of film can draw such a diverse audience? One about how children get to school in the United States compared to how they do it in Japan. The differences are profound.
 
98% of Japanese elementary school students walk 30 minutes or more to get to school. They travel in small packs shepherded by an older child, guided by (principally) female adults acting as crossing guards, on routes which have been mapped out for safety and easy navigation.
 
What makes this research dramatic and cinematic is the contrast with the commute of American kids: in 2009 data, only 13% were walking or biking to school.
 
In the film Schoppa and Fitzgerald point out other facts which make the lives of U.S. school students seem a little diminished: car commuters average 10 forty hour weeks in their vehicles annually; many feeder roads from suburbs into highways bisect neighborhoods preventing walking or biking; in this kind of asphalt environment, parents turn into a taxi service; and school grounds are forced to accommodate huge numbers of vehicles, buying tracts of expensive land (up to 40 acres) – otherwise they have to move further out where land is cheaper, but increasing commute times.
 
But not all is lost! The film attracted planners from the city of Charlottesville and the University, and bike and pedestrian activists, all intent on improving the slow walk commute locally. Insights gleaned from Japanese parents, school teachers, and a school principal include a process for involving the community, understanding the tradeoffs in creating a safe society, recognizing that that kidnappers and killers are rare, their behavior deviant (unlike what we see on America’s Most Wanted), and the importance of involving law enforcement as a part of the whole plan.
 
Schoppa is Associate Dean for the Social Sciences and Professor of Politics at the University. He specializes in the politics and foreign relations of Japan.
 
See the trailer for the film here: http://spinfilm.wix.com/slowwayhome
 
 Preliminary screenings have been scheduled for:
  
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
February 23rd, 2016
 
University of Virginia in Charlottesville
Wednesday, March 16, 5 pm
Nau Hall 101
 
 Mercy College in New York
Tuesday, March 15
 
 Many PBS Stations will broadcast the film on Bike and Walk to School Day (May 4, 2016).
Check your local listings.
 
 Additional screenings can be found here:
https://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/schoppa_homepage/