TalkLeft and Oliver Willis link to this story as supposed evidence of a return to the ‘repressive fifities.’ I use the quotes of sarcasm because Oliver and I were not alive in the fifties, and I have seen Jeralynn on television numerous times and she doesn’t look nearly old enough to have been alive then. I don’t subscribe to the faulty hypothesis that you have to personally experience something to understand things, but I doubt most people living in the fifties felt that they were all too repressive- if they were, they would have done something about it- see the sixties. Most people probably thought it was, well, just normal. Who knows, in 50 years, someone may be pointing backwards talking about the ‘repressive 2000’s.’ At any rate, here is the story:
DEARBORN, Michigan (AP) — School officials ordered a 16-year-old student to either take off a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “International Terrorist” and a picture of President Bush and or go home, saying they worried it would inflame passions at the school where a majority of students are Arab-American.
The student, Bretton Barber, chose to go home. He said he wore the shirt Monday to express his anti-war position and for a class assignment in which he wrote a compare-contrast essay on Bush and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Schools spokesman Dave Mustonen said students have the right to freedom of expression, but educators are sensitive to tensions caused by the conflict with Iraq.
“It was felt that emotions are running very high,” Mustonen said.
Dearborn is the center of an Arab-American community of about 300,000 in southeastern Michigan. About 55 percent of the district’s 17,600 students are Arab-American.
Let’s think about this a little bit before we break out the mass hysteria. Schools, in most cases, are allowed to decide what kids wear (we usually informally and formally refer to this as a Dress Code- if I remember correctly a recent President seemed to be very much in favor of dress codes and school uniforms), and they are generally given a lot of latitude in this regard. Free speech is routinely denied to students in schools (for instance, I was never allowed to call my High School English teacher a stupid flaming asshole, even though she clearly was one- yes, Mrs. Cuomo- I am talking about you), and in many cases for things far less obnoxious and far less volatile than the t-shirt in this case, and many other basic rights are not afforded to children until they become legal adults. We all know this, so why are we being so hysterical?
I think that the t-shirt was stupid, the assignment was stupid, and the reaction- well, that is a judgement call. But schools simply should have the right to make these decisions. I am generally in favor of civil rights- but until we start treating minors like adults in all cases (and I am against that in the criminal system- minors should be charged and tried as minors, until they are 18- period), Jeralynn and Oliver are going overboard with the rhetoric- unless this is just part of the Ashcroft shutting down our civil liberties meme. If that is the case, then they are really making a mistake, because they are hurting us all by lumping things like this with some of the real problems that have been identified with Ashcroft and diluting their credibility and their charge.
Me- I guess I will leave it up to the judgement of the school administrators- and somehow I get the feeling that this is motivated more by the fact that someone tried mindlessly and provacatively to criticize Bush but didn’t get away with it. Again, I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me the school was within their rights.
I don’t think Jeralynn and Oliver want their kids going to schools where kids can wear shirts that say ‘Kill All Niggers’ with a confederate flag displayed proudly. Or ‘Build More Ovens for the Rest of the Jews’ with a picture of Zyclon B displayed. Or ‘Kill all Muslims and Wrap ’em in Pigskin’ with the hole where the Twin Towers used to be located displayed prominently. I certainly don’t want that kind of crap in public or private schools, and to hell with you if you think that I am violating someone’s civil rights for sending a kid home for wearing that t-shirt.
But that’s just me- I don’t yearn for the fifties, but I did always like Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.
*** Update ***
When I mention the ‘repressive’ fifties above and said that most people thought it was normal, I think I am right- and I was not referring to racial issues, as Oliver takes me to task in the comments section. I was talking about free speech issues. Certainly there was the ugliness of Uncle Joe- but really, how does sending a kid home for a potentially volatile t-shirt ‘send us back to the repressive fifties?’ Everything isn’t about race, you know, although as a white man I am probably less sensitive than others on this issue. I spend enough time dealing with badmouthing because I am a awhite Republican- I can’t even begin to describe what many must have felt having to start and end every discussion defending something they had no control over- that being the skin color they were born with. At any rate, I still don’t think this shirt issue is any big deal.