Tinker v. des moines and the rights of student activists wgbh news is btec level 3 higher education

Barbara howard: the right of students to protest at school can be traced back to a U.S. Supreme court decision nearly 50 years ago that set that right in stone. The case was called tinker v. Des moines, and it’s a piece of history that was not lost on marjory stoneman douglas student emma gonzalez, who’s emerged as a leader in the current student movement. Shortly after the shooting at her florida high school, gonzalez gave a rousing speech calling for tougher gun laws. And in that speech she acknowledged the tinker ruling:

Sound clip of emma gonzalez: just like tinker v. Des moines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be marjory stoneman douglas in that textbook, and it’s all going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members, and most importantly, the students.

Howard: it was students — a small band of public school students in iowa protesting the vietnam war — that triggered the tinker case.Tinker moines their black armbands got them suspended. And that case resulted in a landmark U.S. Supreme court decision guaranteeing students the right of free speech within school walls.

With us on the line is mary beth tinker, who now lives in washington, D.C. She is a namesake of the tinker v. Des moines ruling. Thanks for coming on.

Howard: well, tinker v. Des moines, it all started back in 1965. Back then, you were 13 years old, you were in junior high school in des moines, iowa, and your family was opposed to the vietnam war. And you were among a small group of students who wore black armbands to school back then. What happened next?

Tinker: the principals got together and made a rule against black armbands when they heard about our plan to wear black armbands to mourn for the dead in vietnam, and to support a christmas truce that was being proposed by senator robert kennedy.Black armbands

Howard: in all, there was a group of you who did continue wearing these black armbands to school. That included your brother john, who was age 15, and chris eckhardt, also age 15 — and you were suspended. Is that right?

Howard: well, life went on in many ways. I mean, we kept going, you know, roller skating and having parties and studying for classes and things like that. But at the same time, we were doing testimony at lawyers’ offices and going to the appeals court in st. Louis. And what was difficult was the haters. They would send us hate mail, throw red paint at our house. A lady called on the phone and threatened to kill me. So that was probably the most difficult part of it to deal with.

Tinker: no, the teachers and the students were pretty good about it at my school. I was in eighth grade. Some of the kids hassled the high school students, but mostly it was the adults in the community that hassled us.Tinker moines

Tinker: yes it was. People especially targeted my father, leonard tinker, to take out a lot of their anger, and they called us communists and, you know, sent us all kinds of vicious letters and postcards. So yes, they did take out a lot of it on my parents — my parents were just coming from their faith position. Actually, my father didn’t want us to wear the armbands at first, but we told him it was our conscience that was making us do it. And we told him that he had been an example for us, speaking up for our conscience. And then he understood and came over and supported us.

Tinker: yes it was difficult, I think, for my father especially. My mother was more outspoken in general, but they were very conservative in many ways, socially, and my father believed that the principals, you know, had their job to do also, and that it wasn’t always so easy. And so I think they did have their, you know, dilemma about the whole thing too.Black armbands but in the end, they believed that standing up for what you believe in is very, very important and that you must do it peacefully, and that sometimes, you have to take the consequences even for that.

Howard: okay, so four years came and went waiting for this court decision. In the end, in february of 1969, the U.S. Supreme court ruled 7 to 2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” the idea was that speech can’t be censored unless it disrupts the educational process. But it ruled that black armbands just don’t disrupt it, that you did have a right to wear one. Did you feel vindicated?

Tinker: yes, I felt very happy that we had won the case. It was hard to be real happy about it because the vietnam war was raging, but the ruling by abe fortas was a beautiful statement of what education and democracy should be.Tinker moines and I knew that students would gain some rights with the ruling in this case.

Tinker: yes, there are so many similarities. For one thing we’ve built on the — we built on the victories of other students, the students in the civil rights movement. And even the substantial disruption part of the tinker ruling comes from a case in mississippi where students protested the murders of civil rights workers by the KKK. And now I see students also reaching across racial divides, across economic divides, to unite each other on their common interest. There’s so much that is similar about the times that we grew up in. Both times are mighty times.

Tinker: well strangely enough, the black armband that I wore to school is over at the newseum in washington, D.C. Right now. And I had no idea that my little armband or even our little actions would turn out to be such a big deal.Supreme court but as I found out later, that is usually how history is made.

Howard: that’s mary beth tinker, a namesake of the landmark U.S. Supreme court decision tinker v. Des moines, affirming the free speech rights of students in american public schools.