The view from an old codger - Bob Paslay

At the risk of being accused of flip-flopping, I think my opinion has changed greatly about the kid in Henry County who has been ordered to take all the metal out of his face because it is distracting.

As a high school student, full of vinegar and righteousness, I would have championed the kid, saying it's not what is sticking out of your face that matters, but what is stuck in your brain.

Now as an old codger I have an entirely different view.

I believe the kid should take all that junkyard out of his face or get kicked out. School is for gaining knowledge that hopefully will get you in college or get you a good job.

It is not about showing off your Abercrombie and Fitch shirt or about finding a date or about challenging "the man."

It is about learning. And part of learning is to learn that the Georgia Legislature, the Henry County Board of Education or Congress didn't make rules that said in fine print: "If you don't like them, just ignore them. They don't apply to you."

Under the Montessori plan of learning in which you gain knowledge without realizing it, this kid in Henry County is going to learn a lesson that will hold him in good stead for his whole life: The world has rules and you purport yourself to the environment you are in.

My parents were never very big on rules. In the summer, if I was playing outside in a pair of shorts and no shoes and no shirt and my mother called us to supper, we were allowed to come in and plop down at the table and eat after running our hands under the tap for a couple of seconds.

A friend of mine with very formal and strict parents was over one time and couldn't believe this informality. After a day of adjusting he was chowing down with my brother and me, sans shirt and shoes.

I was invited to spend the night at his house one time and my mother ironed a fresh shirt and put in a clip-on tie and put them in my bag because his parents believed in dressing for supper. So when I was there, it never occurred to me to try to defy the rules or to even argue that at my house you could come shirtless and shoeless to supper.

The mother of this kid in Henry County argues that the dress code is not being uniformly enforced. This is a good diversionary tactic, but it never seems to work when you are blue-lighted and arguing that other cars were going just as fast as you. I do think if you have rules enforce them uniformly.

Ultimately the courts will rule against the kid because judges have traditionally said that school officials have the right to maintain order at the schools in order to facilitate learning. The school officials will maintain the hardware hanging out of his face is distracting and therefore detrimental to others learning.

The key is that if you don't like a rule, work to change it. If you can't change it, abide by it. If you want to do like Gandhi and have passive resistance to call attention to the rule then be prepared to pay for this disobedience. Gandhi spent his share of time in jail. He never argued that he was somehow exempt from the law. He just argued it was unjust and his passive resistance did lead to some changes.

So if this kid wants to stay in the same grade for three or four years to try to change the dress code then more power to him. As the nation's oldest college freshman he maybe can impart some knowledge to his fellow students at Swamp River Tech.

I cannot tell you how many people I have seen run red lights in metro Atlanta in the past month or so. In Atlanta they are using cameras at stoplights and I applaud this action. Without sounding like a throwback to the law-and-order reactionary days, we must abide by the laws. It is the height of arrogance to go through a red light and not worry about the person sitting at the other side of the intersection. So they get hit, so they die, so be it. I can't be inconvenienced to stop. That arrogance shows a disregard for rules of society and for the lives of others in society.

It is fun reading Camus' "The Stranger" in college and arguing about existentialism, the concept that no laws or rules apply to you and as you enter society you pick the ones that work for you. But the reality is that society works because over time a set of rules is developed and if you are going to enter that society you must abide by those rules or work to have them eliminated in an orderly way.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor at the News Daily and the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .