Do you use document-based questions in your classroom? Have you ever blogged a DBQ?

This summer the Bill of Rights Institute is blogging a document-based question on the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines (1969). Each weekly post will feature an excerpted document related to the case, along with some questions to guide your thinking on it. Each document should be used to address the question: “Evaluate the extent to which the First Amendment should protect symbolic speech, and the degree to which that protection should be guaranteed to students in public school.”

Case Background:

The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial political issues of the 1960s. By 1965, the United States had large numbers of troops in Vietnam and many Americans had begun to question the wisdom of the war.

In December 1965, students John (age 15) and Mary Beth Tinker (age 13) decided they would have their say as part of a larger, community protest of the Vietnam War. Together with a friend, John and Mary Beth agreed to wear black armbands to school to mourn the dead and protest the War. Amid rumors of the planned protest, the School Board of the Des Moines Independent Community School District implemented a policy banning the wearing of armbands in school. Any offending students would be suspended. The 3 students were suspended until they agreed not to wear the armbands.

The Tinkers argued that by banning the armbands and suspending students for wearing them, public school officials had violated the First Amendment. the case eventually went to the Supreme Court in 1968. The Court had to address 2 central questions: (1) was the expressive behavior of the students an exercise of “speech” that warranted protection under the First Amendment’s speech guarantee? and (2) how can individual liberties be balanced with the need for discipline, the rights of others, and the “special characteristics” of the public school environment?

Today’s Document – Number 1:

The First Amendment, 1791

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and the petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Think about it:

Underline the 5 freedoms of the First Amendment, and write a 1 sentence summary of how the amendment protects expression.

After reading the First Amendment – to what extent do you think the it should protect symbolic speech?


Check back each week to see the next document and how it might change your thinking on this important question that affects all public school teachers and students in the U.S.!”

Posted in A More Perfect Blog, Tinker v. Des Moines DBQ

4 Responses to “Tinker V. Des Moines DBQ”

  1. [...] out last week’s post for the case background and document [...]

  2. NJB says:

    Unfortunately, the 1st ammendment applied only to the US congress. This was a local issue that would require reference to the Iowa Constitution. In that state constution it appears that Article 1 Section 7 would have guaranteed those rights of free speech:

    As to your question of whether symbolic speech should be protected, I would ask a deaf person that uses sign language in order to communicate!

  3. [...] out our previous posts for the case background and document #1 and #2, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette [...]

  4. [...] out our previous posts for a case background and document #1, #2 West Virginia v. Barnette, and #3 a picture of Vietnam War protestors outside the White [...]

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