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Tinker v. Des Moines

Little did 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker know that wearing a black armband to school would open ‘the schoolhouse gate’ to student free-speech issues for the next 50 years.

The landmark decision in Tinker v. Des Moines is widely considered the watershed of students’ free speech rights at school. Apply it to a contemporary scenario in which students stage a school walkout to protest a new dress code that bans messages on clothing.

What’s Different About This Activity?
  • Applies a Landmark Case to a Contemporary Scenario
  • Teaches Question-Formulation Skills
  • Involves Every Learning Style

How to Use These Resources                

  1. Start Here: The Activity Download is the place to find the web resources formatted as courtroom- and classroom-ready handouts that can be mixed and matched.
  2. Modify: Choose from the optional civil discourse activities that can be incorporated into the agenda.
  3. Read: Participants read the facts and case summary.
    They also read the fictional scenario about a student walkout in protest of a dress code that bans messages of any kind on clothing worn at school.
  4. Analyze: Student attorneys are assigned to two sides of the case and the issues listed in the talking points.
  5. Deliberate: All other students are jurors who deliberate in a courtroom fishbowl activity. The judge, volunteer attorneys, and student attorneys observe as the jurors deliberate in a large group or smaller groups. Due to time constraints, the verdict doesn’t have to be unanimous.
  6. Reflect: Students can respond verbally or in writing to the discussion questions.  

After Tinker v. Des Moines

In Tinker v. Des Moines, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the First Amendment applies to public schools. By deciding that school officials cannot censor student speech unless it materially and substantially disrupts the educational process the court set a precedent that is still cited in student free speech cases, including Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and Morse v. Frederick.

DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only. They may not reflect the current state of the law, and are not intended to provide legal advice, guidance on litigation, or commentary on any pending case or legislation.