JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
img

Katie Sierra, American Hero

Written by Crispin Sartwell Apr 11, 2011

The question of whether children have constitutional rights, and if so, which, is a fraught one.

But one thing we ought to be able to agree on is that children have something like an absolute right to peaceful political expression. First of all, there is no reason why they shouldn’t.

And second, there is no better way to prepare people to be citizens of a democracy than to respect and protect their political expression.

Consider the case of Katie Sierra. The tenth grader at Sissonville High School in West Virginia wore home-made t-shirts that featured the “anarchy” circle-a symbol, and anti-war messages such as “When I saw the dead and dying Afghani children on TV, I felt a newly recovered sense of national security. God Bless America.”

Sierra’s suspension went to court, and on July 12, a jury decided that though Sierra was within her rights to form the club, she could legitimately be suspended for the messages, which the administration had held would disrupt the education of other students.

When I was in ninth grade, I myself was suspended repeatedly for putting out an “underground” newspaper, of similar spirit. The justification was the same as it was with Katie: the paper was “disruptive.”

The idea that dissident political expression is disruptive is the code and the canard of pitiful itsy bitsy Mussolinis of the kind who run so many of America’s public schools. That a jury could support the decision of Sissonville High School’s sad little martinets just shows how wide is the incomprehension with which basic Americans regard basic American principles.

One thing should be screamingly obvious: Sierra’s shirts were contributions to rather than disruptions of the educational process. The idea that education involves, say, repeating the Pledge of Allegiance by rote, but that it cannot tolerate dissent is surely an idiocy worthy only of totalitarianism.

Schools are, for better or worse, government institutions: institutions of a democracy. They are public property, and must be held open to the most freewheeling possible political expression, both to educate the citizens of a democracy and to preserve basic democratic principles. There should be no safer space in the world for the peaceful expression of principles than American schools.

Education, one would hope, has something to do with truth. And it is the basic idea of democracy – the basic idea of the founders of the American republic – that the best guarantor of truth is the widest possible and freest possible debate. That is as true in the tenth grade as in the U.S. Congress.

The notion that truth is reached by the repression of dissent is the kind of claptrap that is believed – or at least implemented – by dictators and high school administrators.

There is absolutely no pedagogical or political justification for the repression of Sierra’s t-shirts, whether you disagree or agree with them. And the sort of “disruption” that they cause is synonymous with education in a free society.

Katie Sierra is an American hero.

Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

img

OUR BLOG

img

Alex Jonlin – 20th Anniversary Reflection

As a ten-year-old kid in Seattle, I was already interested in politics. My friends and I marched around the playground protesting the Iraq War, and I...

BY Alex Jonlin
img

Scott Davidson – 20th Anniversary Reflection

Former board member (2003-2007) and president, Scott Davidson reflects on his time with NYRA and the people he got to know during his time being active...

BY Scott Davidson
img

Jackie Ferro – 20th Anniversary Reflection

I first got involved with NYRA in 2009, when I was in 8th grade. I had formed a small coalition with some fellow middle schoolers called...

BY Jackie Ferro
img

NYRA-Fairfax Secures Voting Age Endorsements

Thanks to the efforts of the newly formed Fairfax County NYRA chapter, the Fairfax County Democratic Party and grassroots organizations Virginia Democracy Forward and Virginia Civic...

BY Brian Conner
img

NYRA Mourns Passing of John Taylor Gatto

Renowned critic of compulsory schooling, John Taylor Gatto passed away this week at the age of 82.  A teacher for 30 years, he achieved notoriety after...

BY Alex Koroknay-Palicz
img

Stefan Muller – 20th Anniversary Reflection

I joined NYRA in 2003 after reading about it in a news article about the voting age. This wasn’t my first introduction to youth rights—I’ve believed...

BY Stefan Muller
img

NYRA Launches New Website!

After months of hard work by NYRA's team of volunteers, we are pleased to finally unveil our brand new look! With a new logo, a new...

BY NYRA
img

Bill introduced in U.S. House to lower the voting age to sixteen

Last week, U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced a resolution proposing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would lower the voting age to sixteen throughout...

BY NYRA
img

Over 70 people testify in favor of lowering the voting age in Washington D.C.

On Wednesday, NYRA members attended a public hearing before the Washington, D.C. City Council to support the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018. If passed, this...

BY NYRA
View More
img

Support the New YouthRights.org!

NYRA's current website was redesigned in 2011 and while it looked great for the time, it is now dated in both style and function. The current...

BY NYRA
img

Portland Student Rights Union joins NYRA to address Student Rights

Members of Portland Student Rights Union - A NYRA Chapter We originally started the Portland Student Rights Union (SRU) in October 2017 to protest the administration...

BY Portland Student Rights Union
img

Scott Davidson – 20th Anniversary Reflection

Former board member (2003-2007) and president, Scott Davidson reflects on his time with NYRA and the people he got to know during his time being active...

BY Scott Davidson
img

Schwarzenegger v Gamers – Help Us Fight Back

Arnold is trying to take away your games. Don't let him. California passed a law that would ban the sale of all "violent" video games to...

BY Alex Koroknay-Palicz
img

Activists in Massachusetts Make Progress in Lowering the Voting Age

In Massachusetts, two best friends made headway in the push to lower the voting age. Aaron Nelson and Max Carr passed articles in their hometowns of...

BY NYRA
img

Over 70 people testify in favor of lowering the voting age in Washington D.C.

On Wednesday, NYRA members attended a public hearing before the Washington, D.C. City Council to support the Youth Vote Amendment Act of 2018. If passed, this...

BY NYRA
img

Alex Jonlin – 20th Anniversary Reflection

As a ten-year-old kid in Seattle, I was already interested in politics. My friends and I marched around the playground protesting the Iraq War, and I...

BY Alex Jonlin
img

Speaking out against curfew laws in Fort Worth, TX

NYRA Chapter leader Bryce Hall spoke out against extending the juvenile curfew law in his home town of Fort Worth, Texas last Tuesday. He and other...

BY NYRA
img

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun, And Drags When You’re Young

When I talk to people about lowering the voting age to 16 or lowering the drinking age to 18 they often say “Why the rush? Two...

BY Alex Koroknay-Palicz
View More