Tinker Tour USA visits Boston national journalism convention, educates students about the Tinker v. Des Moines court case

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TINKER TOUR USA: At the fall high school national journalism convention in Boston, Mary Beth Tinker, freedom of speech activist and one of the instigator of the Tinker v. Des Moines court cases, speaks to journalism students on her experiences about fighting for freedom of speech. As a part of her  tour across the country, Tinker said she seeks to educate young people around the country on the importance of speaking up and learning about specific details about her court case. JULIE XU / PHOTO

 

At the 2013 JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention, Mary Beth Tinker, freedom of speech activist and an instigator of the Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court case, is scheduled to give a presentation at 11:00 to 11:50 a.m. in room 311, located in the Hynes Convention Center. According to Tinker, the purpose of both the presentation and the “Tinker Tour” is to inform students about freedom of speech.

Tinker said, “The goal of the Tinker Tour is to increase young voices and to encourage young voices and also to collect stories about how young people already are speaking up and standing up about the things that affect their lives, because so many of you are.”

The Tinker v. Des Moines case took place from November of 1968 to February of 1969. Ruling in favor of Tinker, the Supreme Court decided, according to a syllabus posted on Cornell University’s law website, that “A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments”. This ruling thus revolutionized freedom of speech for both students and teachers within schools.

According to Tinker, her role in the case stemmed from protest of the Vietnam war, but at the time schools censored certain expressions of opinion.

“They were fine with other expression from students that they agreed with. For example, students could wear crosses to school. They could express their belief in Christianity. No problem there. They were able to wear iron crosses to school, which was a symbol of Germany. They were able to wear political campaign buttons, the principals had no problem with that,” she said. “Well, when we wore our armbands to say that we were sad about war, it suddenly wasn’t ok. That (was) unconstitutional.”

Tinker said her protest and the subsequent court case began as a simple expression of opinion but evolved into a nationwide fight for freedom of speech.

“We felt it very strongly at that time, and we just wanted to speak up and stand up. I didn’t know so much about the first amendment, but I just had this intuitive feeling that kids should have rights, too. We should have a right to express ourselves, too. Just because we’re kids doesn’t mean we should just be quiet and never say anything,” Tinker said.

Student Press Law Center attorney Mike Hiestand speaks with journalism student about the purpose of the Tinker Tour USA. Hiestand said that students'  voicing their opinions is crucial for solving the problems of the nation. JULIE XU / PHOTO
Student Press Law Center attorney Mike Hiestand speaks with journalism student about the purpose of the Tinker Tour USA. Hiestand said that students’ voicing their opinions is crucial for solving the problems of the nation. JULIE XU / PHOTO

Mike Heistand, an attorney with Student Press Law Center, said the tour will allow students to understand the role of free speech in shaping the future of society in addition to the power that student journalists and young adults can hold in that process.

“We are in a very critical time. I think that there are just so many issues that need some help, and we need young voices to be a part of the solution,” Heistand said. “One of the things we are finding, though, is that young folks don’t know their rights. We’re just going in and reminding them that yes, you do have these rights in this day and age. The free speech tools you have in the palm of your hand are just incredible, and so you combine those free speech tools with the right to use them, and it’s a pretty powerful combination. And so that’s what we’re trying to remind kids about.

Students at the convention such as Yari Velasquez, a reporter from The Lancer of West Leyden High School located in Northlake, IL., said she and other students looked forward to hearing a direct account of the Tinker v. Des Moines case.

Tinker USA '13 designed t-shirts in order to spread the word about the importance of freedom of speech.  JULIE XU / PHOTO
Tinker USA ’13 designed t-shirts in order to spread the word about the importance of freedom of speech. JULIE XU / PHOTO

“I hope to learn how she reacted to it, because she lived it, she experienced it. f. (We want to get) a deeper understanding of how it actually happened… from her point of view, how it felt, how it was like, (and) what she went through instead of just the textbook version of it.”

Overall Tinker hopes that her tour will help instill in the audience the values she exhibited many years ago as a young girl bravely standing up for her constitutional rights.

Tinker said, “In students, I hope to see more action, more voices, more involvement, more hope that you can make a

difference, and just really a continuation and increase of what already is going on, because so many young people are speaking up and standing up… Adults, like me, have a role to play. Like the JEA advisors, we are helping you, we are with you, we want to show you that we are your allies, (and) that we are with you”.

 

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