Thursday, September 25, 2008

The T-Shirt

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You can count on a student to push the boundaries of the First Amendment every so often, and here is the latest example of the argument between the golden amendment and the right's of the public good.

Apparently Daxx Dalton, a fifth grader at a school in Colorado, wore the above shirt to school (the one on top), got into scuffles with kids, was asked to turn it inside out, refused, and was suspended. The father then called the school officials a bunch of "liberal loons" and is going to sue the school. The edublogosphere is going nuts over the topic, which I caught at Joanne Jacobs (see blogroll). I can't really post a response there because some of those commentators are so out of touch with reality that it is scary. Let's analyze the issue a little more objectively, shall we?

The issue would fall under the court decision Tinker vs. Des Moines, which basically says that a school district can't infringe on a student's freedom of political expression unless it threatens the learning process at the school. What does that mean exactly? Well, it isn't something that can be nailed down. However,the precedent is there that would defend the right's of the student to wear the shirt. In 2003, Bretton Barber wore the above shirt (the one on the bottom) to school and had a similar situation occur (although without scuffles) in which the kid was suspended for refusing to get rid of the shirt. Barber won his case in federal court. In fact, most of the these cases are going towards the student's right to political expression. So the issue of whether or not the shirt is legal is pretty simple.

The main difference, and the real issue of the shirt, is whether or not it disrupts the learning environment, something that can be interpreted in a very broad spectrum. Obviously it created a problem, but there actually has to be intent to cause a disturbance and a history of that image/symbol/shirt causing a problem on campus. This comes from a myriad of court cases regarding the Confederate flag, which is allowed in some schools and banned in others based on the intent and history stated above. While you could probably easily could prove intent, the history part is much more foggy and will be difficult to justify. In this case, the kid still has the right to have the shirt.

I would argue that neither the kid nor the school district is the real problem here. The problem is Tracy Barber (mom of Brett), and Dann Dalton (dad of Daxx). Both have managed to show that parents can be complete jackasses when it comes to the simple idea of common sense. Fine, the shirts are legal, but neither shirt has a real place at school and neither were worn for any reason except to create a commotion that distracts from learning. Bretton Barber's shirt is not anti-war, it's a little kid who is trying to stir up controversy because he hasn't learned how express himself in an academic setting. Daxx Dalton's shirt is much worse. It's a father taking advantage of his 5th grade son to promote a political agenda because the father doesn't have the testicles to to protest for himself in a public forum. That shirt isn't more disturbing because of the message or that it's Obama, it's disturbing because the kid is a tool of an absolute moron.

Look, you're not going to get a bigger supporter of First Amendment rights than myself, especially in the classroom. But along with those rights comes something that I try to impress on kids, responsibility. While both shirts are acceptable under the law, the parents failed to act in a manner that promotes the responsible protection of the First Amendment. Instead, both made a mockery of it.

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