Everybody is outraged about the recent rash of robberies targeting kids at school bus stops. Given the take involved in these crimes - milk money, MP3 players, the odd cell phone - calling them robberies, while technically correct, is a bit of a stretch. Adults terrorizing and brutalizing kids is what's really going on here.

A similar method was reported in all the cases. Kids waiting in the dark at bus stops between 6:30 and 7 a.m. reported being accosted by a man who would get out of a van, carrying a handgun. The man demanded money or anything else of value. Sometimes he hit the kids in the head with his gun. Then he'd get back in the van and be driven away.

People from the mayor on down have expressed revulsion for whoever is preying on the kids this way. Police have added patrols and parents have been urged to accompany their kids to the bus stops, if they can.

For the time being, the focus, as it should be, is on finding the knuckle-draggers responsible for these senseless acts of meanness. They need to be dealt with in a way that exacts a full measure of punishment for what they've done to these kids and the neighborhoods where they live.

This will bring what we like to call "closure" to the whole sick episode. The only trouble is that nothing will have really changed.

The stage for crimes like these is set every day by a world that constantly pays lip service to kids but does as little as possible for their welfare. Take, for example, our schools.

Educators tout the virtues of a "student-centered" approach to learning. But what is student-centered about requiring kids to stand at a bus stop in the dark? Numerous studies agree that plenty of sleep is essential for learning, especially during adolescence. Yet we insist that schools begin earlier in the morning than most adult workplaces do. Then, midway through the afternoon, schools send the kids away to homes that are often empty because parents are still at work.

I've heard a number of explanations for why it needs to be this way, ranging from the administrative vagaries of bus scheduling to a seemingly sincere desire to try and accommodate the wide array of schedules that working families have to deal with. All of them put somebody - bus companies, school corporations, parents, employers - ahead of what's truly best for kids.

This, we like to say, is being practical.

The same thing applies to how we've come to think about free speech. We've decided it's not only practical but our right, as adults, that is, to be able to show any form of violent mayhem or sexual degradation we consider entertaining on cable television at any hour of the day. This, in spite knowing that during many of those hours the people most likely to be watching are kids who may not yet have learned that the sight of someone having their throat cut or being raped is fun.

There's an answer to this, as well. These shows are popular, they sell lots of advertising. Choosing not to show them at certain times of the day would mean less money for someone and that would violate their freedom of speech. What's more, it's up to parents to monitor their children's viewing.

This is true as far as it goes. It conveniently overlooks the ever-present nature of television in most homes, the way TV becomes part of the environment. But it's also a little like saying that if they want their kids to be safe, parents had better accompany their kids to bus stops. That's not a bad idea, either. But both these suggestions presume acceptance of a world that is essentially hostile to kids.

I admit this makes a kind of sense in our adults-only scheme of things. A world made by and for adults is bound to be a bruising place, especially for those not big enough to defend themselves - those, in other words, with no power.

I suppose this is a way of describing the freedom we adults have reserved for ourselves: We reserve the right to make the world unsafe for kids so long as this enables us to do the things we tell ourselves we must or want to do. Our only responsibility is to (if we can) shield our children from ourselves.

And so the world turns. Terrible things will happen before dawn at school bus stops and in living rooms on Saturday afternoons. But that's part of the deal in an adults-first world.

Or so we keep telling ourselves.

What we keep forgetting is that there may be another way of doing things. What we keep forgetting is that a world where children come first would be a great world for adults, too.

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