The children’s nonfiction picture book Pedal It! How Bicycles are Changing the World by Michelle Mulder has details that appeal to my love of history as well as my interest in environmental issues, and it opens the door to so many interesting discussions and “homeschool lessons.”
The book explains the history of the bicycle starting with Baron von Drais walking machine and moving on through the “boneshakers,” penny-farthings to the first chain-driven bicycles. Children can learn about the different trade-offs of safety, comfort and speed.
The environmental section of the book is not too fearful but focused instead on the positive, though I find the statistics a little strange. “One liter (roughly a quarter of a gallon) of gasoline has enough energy in it for a small car to travel about 65 kilometers (40 miles). With the same amount of food energy a person on a bicycle can travel up to 1,037 kilometers (644 miles).” I’m wondering about the perceived equivalency here. Are they talking about one liter of food energy? No, probably the caloric equivalent, yet that seems strange since its not like we could offer a person two equivalent backpacks, one with gas and the other with the food, and the corresponding methods of transportation. Food for 644 miles would probably appear quite a bit more awkward, and the time it would take would be quite a bit longer than driving by car. Bicycling has to come with lifestyle differences.
The book is filled with beautiful stories and pictures about life in various countries. Children will be amazed by how much a person can carry while bicycling! That said, there’s a definate lack of safety-helmets and if you’re trying to drill into your children that the only way to bike is with a helmet and two hands on the handle bar you might not appreciate the beauty of the pictures. On the other hand, the pictures could lead to some interesting discussions about relative safety issues, the fact our expectations for safety are higher becuase we have the resources, and about the idea that in North America bicycling the danger in bicyling is partly due to the proximity to cars.
The book could also lead to different discussions about wealth by bringing in stories of people living in places where the resources available to them are drastically different than what we have. In India the CentriCycle allows healthcare workers to check for iron-deficiency anemia using a repurposed bicycle as a centrifuge. How would acknowledging the differences in technology and expectations between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations affect discussions on health-care reforms? Those of us in North America tend to expect ‘the best’ of everything without acknowledging the amazingness of the resources we do have. Where does that sense of entitlement come from, and do we really believe that we work harder (and thus deserve more, according to those who believe that wealth is a reflection of work) than the street-kid bicycle couriers?