By Betty Roberts
Robinson Barracks Elementary School
Gifted fourth and fifth grade students, and other invited participants, debated the landmark court case, Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District, at Robinson Barracks Elementary School. Gifted Education Teacher Betty Roberts facilitated the debate, Nov. 1.
In 1965, several students were suspended from school because they wore black armbands with white peace signs peacefully protesting the Vietnam War. The school officials justified the suspension because they believed that the armbands would incite disruptive behavior that could turn violent. The students and their parents sued the school district because their First Amendment Rights of free speech were violated. By 1969, after losing their case in District Court and The US Court of Appeals, the students appealed their case in the Supreme Court and won.
Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District was a landmark case because the Supreme Court judges decided that the
armbands were free, pure and symbolic speech plus there was no proof that the Tinker students disrupted the school. Also, students do not lose their First Amendment rights to peaceful protest free speech on school grounds as long as they do not incite altercations.
The two debate teams discussed whether or not the prohibition of students wearing the black armbands as peaceful protest violated their First Amendment rights in 1965.
Students researched the protest years of the 1960s, popular culture, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the
Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution as a work in progress.
Debate procedure included opening statements with three supporting details, quotes and rebuttals. Debaters also had to prepare PowerPoint slides with animation illustrating their arguments.
Costumes were also a part of their research, so some students dressed like hippies, African Americans with Afros and older conservative adults of the 1960s.
Student coaches and moderators had vital roles in the debate as they critiqued presentations and prepared debaters on both teams for rebuttals. They also presented necessary background knowledge of the 1960s from a historical perspective such as the Vietnam War, student protests, U.S Presidents, the hippie movement, the Beatles, protest songs and the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Moderators managed the debate by making sure both teams followed procedure and were respectful. The audience also had an
opportunity to challenge the debaters with rebuttals and questions.
“Debaters, coaches moderators and the audience here at Robinson Barracks Elementary School now have a better understanding why the U.S. Constitution is a work in progress because changes in thinking are inevitable as we strive to treat people fairly,” said Roberts. “When students study and debate landmark cases such as Tinker vs. Des Moines, they develop an understanding why the concept of free speech, according to the First Amendment, is not fully understood and must be reviewed by Supreme Court judges from time to time.”