These kids today

The owner of the Casa D’Ice restaurant, near Pittsburgh, seems to generally have a bee under his bonnet. The marquee in front of his business is constantly adorned with messages complaining about everything from immigration to gas prices. He is viewed, mainly, as a hothead with a poor attitude. The interesting thing is that his messages almost always make perfect sense. For a while the sign said, ‘The seatbelt law is a giant money machine for townships. Ask lawyers why 40 million kids can ride a school bus twice a day without seatbelts.’ That’s a good question. Since seatbelts have been proven to save lives, and are required in private vehicles, it appears our children are not important enough to be protected by the law. It makes me wonder what the owner of the Casa place would say about the kids who live in the village of Maji, Fugong town, in China’s Yunnan province. Twice a day these children have to cross the Nujiang River to get to school and back home. The river rages violently through a rocky canyon over 200 yards wide, and there is no bridge. The way the kids cross the river is, they put on a harness and attach themselves to a cable strung across the river. Then they pull themselves hand over hand to the other side. Sort of makes Grandpa’s stories about having to walk four miles in the snow, barefooted, uphill both ways, seem a little lame. The youngest child who crosses the Nujiang River on the cable every day is a little four-year-old girl named A Qia. Some of the kids can get most of the way across the river with a good push, but A Qia is too light. She has to pull herself most of the way. Five-year-old A Pu once got stuck in the middle of the cable for almost 20 minutes. He said, ‘I used to dream of having a bridge, but then I learned that my dream was too expensive.’ After a television expos’, officials have finally decided to build a bridge over the river. It will cost about 35,000 British pounds, which equates, in American money, to, well, however much 35,000 pounds is in dollars. Even my kids, who started rappelling at an early age, would probably get tired of having to traverse a canyon on a string every day just to get to school. And I guess it would be pointless to make the school building ADA approved. Crossing the Nujiang in wheelchair would probably be rather difficult. But the children in Maji want to go to school, so they cross the river. Obviously they have a slightly different attitude toward education than some of the kids in America. Take Austin Perkins, for example. Austin is a 17-year-old student at Golden Gate High School, which I assume is in San Francisco. Austin got into trouble recently for not complying with the school dress code. He and a friend had already been warned because of previous infractions. The students at Golden Gate are required to wear ‘collared or polo shirts that must be tucked in. The shirts must be in a solid color of white, gray, green, pink or khaki.’ Austin and his friend were put into ISS, or in school suspension, for showing up in suits and ties. The incorrigible miscreants. How can our school systems be expected to turn out responsible citizens when they come to school dressed like lawyers’ The dress code calls for the students to wear ‘business dress,’ and Austin and his friend interpreted that as, well, business dress. Granted, the boys were being smart alecks. They were trying to protest against the dress code by surpassing it. Still, Bob Spano, Golden Gate’s principal, handled the situation as poorly as humanly possible. He seems to have weighed his options carefully and then chose the one that would portray him and his school board as idiots. ‘If this had happened at Mason High School when I was there, my principal, Lee Graham, would have told the boys, ‘Those suits look nice. I hope they’re comfortable, because you will be wearing them every day for the next month.’ And they would have. And then they never would have worn suits again. Problem solved. Of course, a school needs rules, and the rules have to be followed. Dress codes are important, to a degree. But when you hear about children who risk their lives every day just to get to school, what they’re wearing doesn’t seem like a big deal. But then, according to the owner of the Casa restaurant, about 40 million American kids risk their lives twice a day riding school busses. There are only 500 Chinese kids who have to cross the Nujiang daily, so the odds are better that all of them will make it. Besides, they’re all strapped in ‘ ‘ Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist whose kids could rappel before they could read. Write to him at P.O. Box 1600, Mason, Tex. 76856 or

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