Armband is the new black
February 24, 2015 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Today is the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Tinker vs. Des Moines. Two high school students refused to remove the black arm bands that they wore to school on December 11, 1965 as a form of silent protest and in mourning of those lost in the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court agreed with their right to express their political opinions, stating "Students don't shed their constitutional rights at the school house gates." This was also the decision that stated that expression of an idea need not be verbal or written in order to be covered under the umbrella of free speech.

In honor of the anniversary of the decision, Mary Beth Tinker wrote a letter to the Zinn Education Project which was published on HuffPo describing her and her brother's inspiration by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
posted by batbat (19 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just a reminder from my local news this morning that kids who want to stand up for themselves and their peers still need our help.
posted by selfnoise at 7:04 AM on February 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


And then Reagan and Nixon's Supreme Court appointees started rolling everything back with Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier in 1988.
posted by jonp72 at 7:33 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately virtually every subsequent case touching on speech in schools has distinguished itself from Tinker and stripped those rights further.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:40 AM on February 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wrote my dissertation on school dress codes and free speech. It is one of the areas that show the virtues of the US freedom of speech protections most strongly, even though TInker has been very much watered down. In the ECHR we end up with cases like R (Begum) v Governors of Denbigh High School and Leyla ┼×ahin v. Turkey and worst of all SAS v France which are just embarrasing cop outs - craven courts bowing to political pressure to censure non-christian stuff. Sad thing is how little Influence US law has compared to proportionality based rights law, which gets rid of all these awkward decisions at a stroke.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 7:47 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wore a black armband to school the day after Reagan won the 1980 election. I fought the power!
posted by thelonius at 7:54 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sad thing is how little Influence US law has compared to proportionality based rights law, which gets rid of all these awkward decisions at a stroke.

I don't know what this means, because I don't know what proportionality based rights law is, but I am intrigued. Can you say more, or provide a link for the ignorant. Bonus if you've got something that will save me from googling all those case cites separately.
posted by layceepee at 8:17 AM on February 24, 2015


selfnoise: Just a reminder from my local news this morning that kids who want to stand up for themselves and their peers still need our help.

Yeah, that's even more concerning given that there's already a Supreme Court decision on the Pledge. I noticed that case is not mentioned anywhere in the article. Great research there, reporters.
posted by spaltavian at 8:21 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I suppose the metro/suburban California HS I attended never heard of this decision. All schools I attended had a "dress code."

I know this well because I was in a band and sent home because:

--I wore red pants to school. This was "disruptive."

--I wore (what were called) "Beatle boots" and a black vest (I was in a band). Vice principal said, "You can come back when you don't look like you are going hunting."

--Many times for a haircut. The Vice-Prin would walk around the common area at lunch and stop suspects. He would take a pen out of his pocket and flip the hair over your ear. If the hair touched the top of your ear, you were sent home until you complied.

--He would make woman kneel on the cement (!) and then measure the distance from the ground to the top of their skirts. More than 2 inches? Go home!

Seriously, I don't know how/why schools got away with stuff like this...and this was in '66 to '68.

Peace sign buttons (or any button) were absolutely forbidden! I never saw anyone wear an armband tho.

When I go to a HS today, I am usually amazed by what I see: radical hair, studs/piercings/tattoos, "FTW" type tshirts, ragged/ripped stuff, knee-high boots...gotta get pretty extreme these days to be a radical...like I was in my Red Pants days. Haha.
posted by CrowGoat at 9:18 AM on February 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, no problem. Basically - US constitutional law is very unusual in developed legal systems. As I understand it the US basically asks Yes/No questions - a standard of review is posed and an answer as to whether a law meets that standard is given. thats a gross simplification of course, but suffices.

In contrast, the predominant standard in non-US human rights/consitutional law is "proportionality" based review - which means when a decision is reviewed the judiciary is asked 3 questions. 1. Is the aim legitimate (almost always is) 2. Is the action in accordance with the existing law (again, it almost always is, that is how it gets to a high court) 3. Is the action " balanced" - does the purpose outweigh the restrictions? In the cases I mentioned, the ECHR (European Court Of Human Rights) basically have consistently found that governments can restrict freedom of speech for any plausible reason. If you are religious and want to wear religious clothing to your education- "social harmony" can outweigh your rights (Begum, Sahin). If you want to distribute leaflets outside a school (handyside) you can be prohibited. The balancing test is usually broadly (In my dissertation I suggested incoherently) argued and creates a lacuna of doubt at the very heart of Human rights law.

On the other hand, there are Candadian and South African cases and non echr UK cases where similar facts go the other way. Proportionality courts have a huge discretion to bend to the social wind and applicants have almost no certainty which way they will bend. This is why I think they are incoherent, huge decisions about the fate of nations policies depend on one paragraph of bland , no argument given rhetoric
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 9:38 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


--He would make woman kneel on the cement (!) and then measure the distance from the ground to the top of their skirts. More than 2 inches? Go home!

Arbitrary, kinda-creepy rules like this are still pretty typical for dress code rules for girls in public schools.
posted by almostmanda at 9:41 AM on February 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Yeah, that's even more concerning given that there's already a Supreme Court decision on the Pledge. I noticed that case is not mentioned anywhere in the article. Great research there, reporters.

The decision is interesting because the court had ruled the other way in 1940, holding that it was constitutional to compel students to recite the pledge under threat of expulsion. It took the court only three years to admit that it had been wrong.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:12 AM on February 24, 2015


During a war, no less.
posted by spaltavian at 10:24 AM on February 24, 2015


almostmanda: they aren't kinda-creepy, they're full bore creepy. It's slut shaming pure and simple, and it isn't arbitrary. In middle school girls who are more developed are singled out for closer inspection and stricter adherence to the rules. Girl with no breasts can wear anything. Girl with breasts will have her wardrobe picked over with a microscope looking for violations, the bigger her breasts the stricter the rules are for her. Unless she's fat, in which case again the administration doesn't care. Basically it's the administration judging the sex appeal of children and changing the rules for girls the administration finds to be sexually appealing.


I was personally at at two schools where the principal actually got on the PA and made the announcement that the dress code was there to keep girls from distracting boys and asked for the girls to please remember how distracting they could be and dress appropriately. Female principal both times, if it matters.

The dress code for girls is always longer, more detailed, and more restrictive than the dress code for boys. For boys the rules are basically don't wear shirts with nudity, beer or drugs, or profanity. For girls the dress codes go into crazy detail about length of shorts, skirts, what sort of tops are appropriate, how high a slit in a skirt can be, what sort of bra is or is not appropriate to wear, and on and on and on.
posted by sotonohito at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because we all know those boys just can't control themselves. Whaaaaaaargarbl.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:49 AM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was personally at at two schools where the principal actually got on the PA and made the announcement that the dress code was there to keep girls from distracting boys and asked for the girls to please remember how distracting they could be and dress appropriately. Female principal both times, if it matters.

If that had been my school, I'd have showed up the next day in a burqa. I was lucky in that my schools were never particularly strict about dress code. I wore miniskirts and tanktops with my bra strap showing (as was the style at the time), and I never got in trouble for that. I only got in trouble twice: Once in my goth phase, I wore a spiked collar and a teacher told me to take it off because the spikes could hurt someone (to which I rolled my eyes and pointed out that the spikes were duller than sharpened pencils). The other time, I went to a middle school whose principal always scheduled school picture day on Halloween specifically to prevent kids from dressing up. So in eighth grade, I showed up decked out in a homemade Princess Mononoke costume, happy to have my school picture taken in it (or not have my picture taken at all), but they made me change my clothes and wash the red paint off my face. In my photo that year, I look royally pissed. My mom didn't order any prints.

Sorry for the rambling. I guess my point is I felt terribly oppressed at school, and apparently I actually had far more leeway than most kids in this country. That's very upsetting to me. Kids should have as much right to express themselves as adults.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 11:22 AM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Anyamatopoeia, bear in mind that my information comes from the Texas panhandle, there's a lot of people with toxic attitudes towards sex and women around here. And, of course, this includes its own hypocrisies and inconsistencies. Both places, for example, had cheerleading outfits [1] that blatantly violated the dress code on skirt length, yet somehow that was ok.

And, of course, things tend to be more socially conservative in Texas and that's reflected in school dress codes and dress code enforcement that's probably not the same as you'd encounter in other, more liberal, states.

Mostly, of course, they're just trying to avoid any sort of controversy or riling up of the mostly Tea Party extremist types who watch the schools for any signs of liberalism or sexual degeneracy (which is why our schools here have abstinence only education that is explicitly Christian in content).

[1] Of **COURSE** there are middle school cheerleaders in Texas, someone has to cheer for the middle school football teams.
posted by sotonohito at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2015


In the late 60s I got demerits in PE for being "out of uniform" by wearing a black armband.

While I believe most teachers, and even administrators go into education to help, there are enough frightened and power mad people who do the the system is often a nightmare.

Selfnoise: Your link is a bummer. When will people get that a coerced pledge is meaningless, and that one of the things that makes this country worthwhile is that you don't have to say the pledge? Every time I read a tale like your link I have a little less faith in the USA. And I read a lot of them.
posted by cccorlew at 12:41 PM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


cccorlew, if it makes you feel any better, the majority of the commenters on that story do seem to get it.
posted by mbatch at 4:24 PM on February 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I loved my high school government teacher for including Tinker v. Des Moines in our must-know Supreme Court cases back in the late 90s.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:58 PM on February 24, 2015


« Older Changes to sex ed curriculum in Ontario called...   |   Cats, jihad, satire! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments