In discussing the 1969 landmark Supreme Court Case Tinker v. Des Moines, Mary Beth Tinker, a petitioner in the case, spoke about the political climate at the time and protests that were occurring around the nation. A newsreel of Vietnam War protests is also shown.
After wearing black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War, three students -- two of them siblings -- were suspended by the Des Moines Independent Community School District for disrupting learning. The parents of the children sued the school for violating the children's rights to free speech. The landmark Supreme Court Case Tinker v. Des Moines determined it was a First Amendment violation for public schools to punish students for expressing themselves in certain circumstances. This lesson uses expert analysis, perspectives from the Tinkers, oral arguments and archival video to explore the case and the legacy of the ruling.
Before beginning class, have the students make a list of rights that they think they have in school.
Review the students' warm-up answers and address any misconceptions.
As a class or individually, have the students view the following three videos and use the questions for each video to engage in class discussion to provide context for this case and its connection with the First Amendment.
Use the accompanying questions in the Handout as a guide throughout the lesson. Students can access all video clips using this handout.
HANDOUT: Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) (Google Doc)
VIDEO CLIP 1: Tinker v. Des Moines- Vietnam War Protests (3:55)
Explain the historical background for Tinker protests.
VIDEO CLIP 2: Tinker v. Des Moines- The People Involved (4:41)
Describe the students who protested in this case.
Where did the idea for the black armbands come from? What was the significance of it?
VIDEO CLIP 3: Tinker v. Des Moines - The Constitutional Issues (1:47)
How does the First Amendment relate to this case?
What does incorporation mean and how does it relate to Tinker v. Des Moines?
EXPLORING THE BACKGROUND OF THE CASE:
View the two videos below to learn about the protest and suspension, and the path to the Supreme Court. Answer each question associated with the clips on the handout.
VIDEO CLIP 4: Tinker v. Des Moines- The Day of the Protest (4:59)
Describe Mary Beth Tinker's experience on the day of the protest.
Describe John Tinker's experience on the day of the protest.
VIDEO CLIP 5: Tinker v. Des Moines- The Path to the Supreme Court (3:51)
How did the American Civil Liberties Union help the Tinkers in this case?
Why was this a federal case?
EXPLORING THE SUPREME COURT CASE:
Using the handout, students will view the following videos below to learn about the arguments, decision and legacy of the case. Students can complete the chart on the arguments in the case and explain its impact on students. Students can also answer each accompanying question to guide their viewing.
To adapt this lesson for classes with limited time, you can opt to only include video clips 9 and 11 in this section.
HANDOUT: Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) (Google Doc)
VIDEO CLIP 6: Tinker v. Des Moines- Arguments for the Tinkers (4:40)
What was significant about the lawyer that the ACLU provided?
Explain the arguments that the lawyer for the Tinkers made.
How is the standard different in public and private schools?
VIDEO CLIP 7: Tinker v. Des Moines- Arguments for the Des Moines School Board (3:13)
What are the arguments that Allan Herrick, the attorney for the School Board, makes?
VIDEO CLIP 8: Tinker v. Des Moines- The Decision in the Case (1:03)
How did Walter Cronkite characterize the Tinker decision?
What aspects of the Supreme Court's opinions (majority and dissenting) did Cronkite highlight in his report?
VIDEO CLIP 9: Tinker v. Des Moines- The Majority Opinion (4:16)
Explain the arguments that Justice Fortas includes in the Majority Opinion.
What "qualifiers" are included in this opinion? How do they limit student rights?
How does this opinion empower students?
VIDEO CLIP 10: Tinker v. Des Moines- The Dissenting Opinion (2:03)
Describe the arguments that Justice Hugo Black made in his dissenting opinion.
How were Justice Black's warnings about student protests incorrect?
VIDEO CLIP 11: Tinker v. Des Moines- Impact on Student Rights (3:58)
What specific student actions did the Bethel case deal with?
What specific student actions did Guiles v. Marineau deal with?
In Morse v. Frederick, what actions did the student take?
What are the two exceptions to the Tinker standard?
What actions did the Hazelwood case limit?
Using the ruling in Tinker and the precedents set in cases like Bethel, Guiles and Morse, view the video clip below discuss the following prompt:
VIDEO CLIP 12: School Walkouts and Students' Rights (1:41)
Interpreting the Tinker standard- Make a list of examples of student expression in schools that would, in your opinion, be protected under the Tinker ruling. Make a list of examples of student expression that would NOT be protected under the Tinker ruling. Please use discretion when describing these examples.
Comparing Supreme Court Cases- Compare and contrast the Constitutional arguments that made in Tinker v. Des Moines to those made in the following Supreme Court Cases.
Additional Writing Prompts-
John Tinker talks about events leading up to this Supreme Court case that involved him and his sister Mary Beth Tinker as well as its legacy.
Former student-activist Mary Beth Tinker and Executive Director of the Newseum
Author James Foster explains the arguments and decision of the Morse v Frederick Supreme Court case.
Respond to the writing prompt, presented in the style of the SCOTUS Comparison Question component of the redesigned AP Government and Politics exam.