Zimmerman on School T-Shirt Politics

Jonathan Zimmerman wants students in public schools to be able to wear any kind of t-shirt they want.

He asks a pointed question in this morning’s Inquirer about the Romney t-shirt controversy: What if Sam Pawlucy’s shirt had not supported Romney, but supported an anti-homosexual position?  In a similar case in 2007, a student was prohibited from wearing a shirt that proclaimed, ‘Homosexuality is shameful.’

I’m a big fan of Zimmerman, the reigning Pooh-Bah of American educational historians and the author of the best book out there on culture wars in public schools.  As he has argued for years, in this morning’s op-ed Zimmerman wants students to be given freer range to offend.  He asks in his Inquirer piece,

“Why should we assume that some people need special protection from distasteful speech? In the guise of defending minorities, these restrictions actually patronize them. And they make a mockery of Tinker, which emphasized the rights of students to exercise free speech, not to be shielded from it.”

As Our Man in Scotland commented yesterday about the Philadelphia t-shirt controversy, Sam Pawlucy would not likely have received such enthusiastic support if her shirt had not supported GOP candidate Romney.  Zimmerman agrees.  The point of free speech, Zimmerman argues, is not to protect speech with which we agree.  The point of free speech is to protect all forms of speech, even and especially those phrases that are offensive or controversial.