Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Philistines of Gath vs. Philistines of Gaza

Okay. So apparently a Pennsylvania family is filing a federal freedom of speech lawsuit against Penn Manor School District because their 14 year old whelp of a son refused to remove a silly t-shirt he was wearing (bearing something like the image shown):

Donald Miller III, 14, went to Penn Manor High School in December wearing a T-shirt he said was intended to honor his uncle, a U.S. Army soldier fighting in Iraq.

The shirt bears the image of a military sidearm and on the front pocket says "Volunteer Homeland Security." On the back, over another image of the weapon, are the words "Special issue Resident Lifetime License — United States Terrorist Hunting Permit — Permit No. 91101 — Gun Owner — No Bag Limit."

Officials at the Millersville school told him to turn his shirt inside out. When Miller refused, he got two days of detention.

As a matter of principle--taking into account the deeply muddled state of affairs it betokens--I guess I am on the side of wee Donny 3's family. Mostly because the school board's reasoning in defence of its actions, i.e. that "school must create a safe environment for students in the post-Columbine era, and bringing even the image of a gun to school violates the district's policy," is patent wankery. (I mean! The post-Columbine era?! As a rhetorical trump for post-9/11 era hysteria, is it? Give me a flipping break! And anyway, aren't these people capable of thinking in terms that haven't first been run through the social scientist's word mill?) There is, one gets the distinct impression, far more of political partisanship than sound educational principle at work here, and I don't think it would be straining credulity too much to suggest that the same teachers who are responsible for Donny's punishment wouldn't bat an eyelash at t-shirts depicting Che Guevera or Patty Hearst, or, I don't know, that advocated Planned Parenthood's opposition to the Pennsylvania abortion laws ... I could be wrong in this, of course, but speaking as a former public school teacher (albeit in Ontario) I think it is a very reasonable supposition indeed.

'Thing is, the shirt really is stupid.

As are all t-shirts that have slogans of any description on them (including the manufacturer's logo). They are, and always have been, beneath the dignity of the human being wearing them; at best they are vulgarly (which is to say, unnecessarily) provocative, at worst they serve as a substitute for actual thought and actual conviction. And, I should just like to remind you, the whole t-shirt culture (if it can be called that) sprang from the staunchly brainless, anti-square, anti-establishment, anti-tradition bollocks of the 1960s. It seems to me that adding conservative (or, anyway, pro-war) content to an inherently anti-conservative medium is about as useful to its desired ends as, say, Christian Rock is in promoting a genuinely Christian faith.

But there's also this to be considered: little Donny wasn't given two detentions simply for wearing his goofy shirt, he was given two detentions for refusing to take it off. Now, much as I'm convinced that it would take no more than five minutes of chat with the staff concerned before I was thinking of stabbing myself in the eyes with a Bic, to the extent that these people were punishing the boy for refusing a reasonable request (at least as they understood it) made by adults, they have my full support. Let little Donny lecture his betters on patriotism and free speech when he's of an age that he can vote or, better yet, actually serve his country. Until then the rule's in loco parentis, y'little shit! If you've got a problem with that, then take it home to Mommy and Daddy and we'll have a chat with them. In the event, maybe they can explain to you that order in this place is just a little bit more important than the sartorial political statements of pubescent boys.

But I do acknowledge that there is a genuine dilemma here. Namely: how do we determine, fairly, what is and isn't acceptable dress for secondary school students?

Some of my conservative brethren might balk at this, but the solution strikes me as being quite simple. Given that the American Constitution defends only free speech explicitly, then the more complicated (and worthless in my opinion--but whatever) value of "expression" should be treated as off-limits until students have reached the age of majority. That is, in the interests of a rigourous education, Donny should leave his "Terrorist Hunting Permit" t-shirt at home, as should little Dylan his "George W. Bush International Terrorist" shirt.

Instead, let the nation's young--when they are in the nation's classrooms anyway--wear button downs and a sturdy pair of dungarees. Unencumbered by embellishment. If they have something to say then let them actually say it, and let there be some serious expectation that they should be able to do so reasonably, articulately, dispassionately. That is, responsibly.

Leave the frivolous lawsuits and beburnholed "Who farted?" tank tops to those who have earned them.