Mixed feelings after reading Newman’s column

Published: 7/16/2021 4:08:28 PM I enjoyed, as usual, reading Bill Newman’s column (“Defending a teenager’s right to free speech,” J...



Published: 7/16/2021 4:08:28 PM

I enjoyed, as usual, reading Bill Newman’s column (“Defending a teenager’s right to free speech,” July 10). But I can’t help but have mixed feelings about the recent Supreme Court case he wrote about, Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L.

Decades ago, as a high school activist-journalist in a mostly white, suburban district, I felt constantly embattled. Our principal tried to co-opt students’ editorial opinions; my homeroom teachers forced me to stand in the hall each morning when I refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance; another teacher snapped at me that we students would receive our constitutional rights “when you’re adults!”

But to defend my peers’ and my right to free speech, I was able to continually cite the Supreme Court’s precedent-setting 1969 decision in Tinker v. Des Moines that Newman mentioned. Now, as a middle-aged person who has lived through decades of education defunding and privatizing, and the invention and evolution of technology that’s given us pocket computers and 24-7 access to an audience, I can’t help but feel sad.

The trajectory of court cases Newman discussed seems a perfect example of the triumph of neoliberalism. In the 1960s, many students and their parents were understandably concerned about young U.S. men being conscripted to bomb, maim and kill, or be killed themselves, in a small nation on the other side of the globe. Cut to 1996, when Newman was part of the legal team that defended high school students wearing T-shirts that their South Hadley administrators and district school committee deemed “obscene.” Some of these shirts had an anti-drunk-driving message that the teenagers wanted to share with their peers and teachers.

It seems like a vast degeneration from public school students protesting an imperialist war waged on the people of Vietnam, to students wearing T-shirts reading “Co-Ed Naked Band” and “Don’t be a Dick,” to a young person launching F-bombs because she wasn’t chosen for the varsity cheerleading squad.

But as someone who deeply believes in the First Amendment, I will always defend everyone’s right to protest evil or to make public idiots of themselves, as long as they’re not shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. And I’m more worried these days about students of color being sent home and/ or suspended for wearing their hair in styles that white teachers and administrators consider “disruptive.” You can bet that if a Black student had raised her middle finger or dropped F-bombs, her case wouldn’t have made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michele Spring-Moore

Northampton



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Newsrust - US Top News: Mixed feelings after reading Newman’s column
Mixed feelings after reading Newman’s column
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