Do you use document-based questions in your classroom?

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.”

Check out our previous posts for a case background and document #1, document #2, West Virginia v. Barnette, document #3, a picture of Vietnam War protestors outside the White House, document #4, a collection of “Hate Mail” received by the Tinker Family, document #5 and document #6, parts of the Oral Arguments for the case.

Today’s document is the Majority Opinion (7-2), Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) – Document 7:

It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. …The problem posed by the present case does not relate to regulation of the length of skirts or the type of clothing, to hair style, or deportment. It does not concern aggressive, disruptive action or even group demonstrations. Our problem involves direct, primary First Amendment rights akin to “pure speech.”

If a regulation were adopted by school officials forbidding discussion of the Vietnam conflict, or the expression by any student of opposition to it anywhere on school property except as part of a prescribed classroom exercise, it would be obvious that the regulation would violate the constitutional rights of students, at least if it could not be justified by a showing that the students’ activities would materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school. In the circumstances of the present case, the prohibition of the silent, passive “witness of the armbands,” as one of the children called it, is no less offensive to the Constitution’s guarantees.

Think about it:

Why did the Court rule that the Tinkers’ armbands were protected speech?

What kind of expressive conduct in public school does the Court say should NOT be protected?

How does this impact your answer to the DBQ 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”?

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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.!

If you are enjoying this DBQ – be sure to check out our curriculum Supreme Court DBQs: Exploring the Cases the Changed History.

Posted in A More Perfect Blog


4 Responses to “Tinker v. Des Moines DBQ – Document 7”

  1. [...] Check out our previous posts for a case background and document #1, #2 West Virginia v. Barnette, #3 a picture of Vietnam War protestors outside the White House, #4 a collection of “Hate Mail” received by the Tinker Family, document #5 and document #6, parts of the Oral Arguments for the case, and document #7, the Majority Opinion. [...]

  2. [...] by the Tinker Family, document #5 and document #6, parts of the Oral Arguments for the case, document #7, the Majority Opinion, and document #8, the Concurring [...]

  3. [...] by the Tinker Family, document #5 and document #6, parts of the Oral Arguments for the case, document #7, the Majority Opinion, document #8, the Concurring Opinion, and document #9, the Dissenting Opinion (Hugo [...]

  4. [...] by the Tinker Family, document #5 and document #6, parts of the Oral Arguments for the case, document #7, the Majority Opinion, document #8, the Concurring Opinion, and document #9, the Dissenting Opinion [...]

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