Editorial: Student fight for Pastafarian rights

Once upon a time a school boy who wanted to wear a colander on his head as a sign of his religious faith would have been laughed out of the principal's office, possibly with a stinging sensation in his buttocks.

Not now. Well, the Pakuranga College 15-year-old who says he's a Pastafarian, a member of a movement that began in the United States but is now officially recognised in this country as the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, was laughed out of the head's office, but that's not the end of it.

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He says he accepts the principal's decision that the colander had no place in his school photo, but he isn't giving up. He wants the Human Rights Commission to rule on the issue. He professes to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and who are we to say he may not do so?

"There was a time when the word of a teacher or headmaster was law, and what they said was unfailingly supported by the child's parents."

He claims, not entirely convincingly, that he wasn't being cheeky or disrespectful, and that he is asking for nothing more than the right granted to those of other religions to wear the appropriate headgear. He says he doesn't understand why he isn't allowed to do that. And it's a fair bet that the law won't understand either.

The words hoist and own petard come to mind. Shakespeare can take the credit for that expression, which in this context means that the hoisted party has fallen into their own trap. That is exactly what we have collectively done.

We have become so obsessed with tolerating every weird whim and fantasy, so determined not to hurt anyone's feelings, that the door to this sort of nonsense has been flung open. And it's going to take some closing again.

The problem for Pakuranga College is that Pastafarianism is officially accepted here as a legitimate religion. Its consolation is that this madness is not ours alone.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is legally recognised here and in the Netherlands, where Pastafarians have been authorised to celebrate weddings. Not sure they can do that here yet, but who would bet the day won't come? And who would bet that next year, when this boy lines up for his school photo, he won't have a colander on his head?

Pastafarianism has all the hallmarks of a Monty Python sketch. Its rites include an annual holiday, Ramendan (which, ironically, might well be highly offensive to Muslims), which demands that followers eat nothing but two-minute noodles for a day. This devotee went further, displaying his piety by eschewing all other forms of sustenance for four days to demonstrate his love of His Holy Noodliness.

One does not need a degree in child psychology to suspect that this boy is taking the mickey, but good luck to those who try to pin that on him. Our national journey from the sublime to the ridiculous has inevitably brought us to the point where we may no longer challenge the patently absurd for fear of hurting someone's feelings.

Schools are at the sharp end of this. There have been numerous examples over recent years of kids trying it on, or standing up for their inalienable human rights, whichever way you want to look at it. Generally the rebels have an issue with their school uniform, or object to the rules governing self-adornment, including the cultivation of hair.

It was not always thus. There was a time when the word of a teacher or headmaster was law, and what they said was unfailingly supported by the child's parents. The rights of a minor could be written in triplicate on the back of a postage stamp.

The writer was there when this all began changing at Kaitaia College. The issue was the rule against boys growing their hair to a length that would touch their ears, let alone cover them.

A handful of the 1970 graduates returned to Kaitaia for their first university holiday to discover, to their intense chagrin, that the college boys were sporting hair that, under the reign of the previous principal, the redoubtable John Mitchell, would have been grounds for public flogging. How had this happened? The senior boys had simply gone on strike.

By that stage Mr Mitchell had been succeeded by the much more placid Peter Andrews, who noticed one day that the boys were sitting on the ground at the front of the school, refusing to go to their afternoon classes. They were protesting, he was told, with the aim of being allowed to grow their hair.

Mr Andrews' response was something along the lines of not caring what they did. The strike was over, and a right that their elders had had to wait for school days to finish to enjoy was suddenly theirs.

That didn't go down at all well with the previous year's students. They saw it as the thin end of a very unfair wedge, a sign that the rot was setting in.

Three years earlier the writer, who had not begun shaving, emerged from a School Certificate exam in the college hall to be accosted by a teacher, one Tom Price, with whom it never paid to argue.

A 15-year-old ear was twisted, a not entirely painless process, and its owner was told to go home, get his father's razor and "get that stuff" off his face.

He protested. He had another exam after lunch; could he remove the offending fluff overnight? No he could not. So he ran, several kilometres, his mother asking what he was doing.

She told him to hurry up then and get back to school.

Imagine the likely parental response to that situation today.

Then there was the senior boy who, in the late 1960s, cultivated a secret moustache. He kept it a secret by cunningly covering it every morning with a strip of Elastoplast — Band-aids hadn't been invented — which was carefully removed every afternoon so he could luxuriate in his display of sophistication, then covered again next morning.

He got away with it for quite some time, using the explanation that he had cut himself shaving. A teacher, quite possibly Mr Price, finally became suspicious of the cut that wouldn't heal and ripped the plaster off. The boy wasn't ordered home to shave, but next morning he did not need the elastoplast.

The late Keith Parker once wrote that his generation was repressed. Perhaps they were. Kids in his day were expected to obey the rules, at home, at school and anywhere else. His generation was raised with a healthy respect for authority in all its manifestations, including teachers.

And any kid who got into trouble with the law would have been unwise to have counted on their parents leaping to their defence. Dad was more likely to hand the miscreant over without even asking what he had done.

But if Keith and Co were expected to do as they were told, it didn't do them any harm. Perhaps what we have now has its benefits, in that children these days are allowed, even encouraged, to think more for themselves as opposed to constant obedience. The jury might be out on that, but without doubt life as a teacher was simpler in those days than it is now. Kids knew their place, and the great majority of them turned out okay.

So, one imagines, will their grandchildren, even with their penchant for challenging authority. Rebellion can be healthy, but it can also go too far. Those who impose the rules should, after all, have the benefit of wisdom. And the cause needs to be chosen with care. Perhaps this Pakuranga College boy has shares in a colander factory. If not, he should save his moral outrage for something that matters. Like a moustache.

- Northland Age

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