Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, has penned a powerful op-ed in the Des Moines Register on today’s 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark student-rights decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
In Tinker, three Iowa students pursued to the high court their right to wear to school black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. As LoMonte wrote in the Register, the court found on Feb. 24, 1969 that students don’t "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
"Regrettably, it is hard to know whether to mark Tinker’s anniversary with a birthday party or a wake," LoMonte wrote:
In just the past few months, here are some items that high school students have been told are unacceptably controversial to publish in their campus publications: A column encouraging students to join a nationwide campaign to sit with new friends of a different race in the lunchroom for a day. A column questioning why the new high school was built without a library, forcing students to drive across town to check out books. An editorial urging the school to teach more grammar in its English classes so students would be better prepared for standardized tests.
"If the 40 years since Tinker have taught us anything," LoMonte concluded, "it is that vigilantly questioning our government is the highest duty of citizenship. Students do not flip a switch at adulthood and learn that lesson, if they are taught for the preceding 18 years that the government gets to decide when and how it is criticized."