Did FWCS overreact to student's "I (heart) boobies" bracelet?
The Fort Wayne Community Schools student whose “I (heart) boobies” bracelet was taken away from her has filed suit in federal court, and the “constitutional rights for students” battle is on. The school system is violating her First Amendment right to free speech, according to Ken Falk of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which has filed the suit on the girl’s behalf.
Let us say one thing at the outset: While students shouldn’t have to “leave their constitutional rights at the door” when they enter school, they don’t have exactly the same rights in the same way as adults in the larger society. They have no more First Amendment right to wear an “I (heart) boobies” bracelet than they do to sing barbershop quartet while the teacher is trying to talk. Students are in school to receive instruction, not exercise their rights. Schools are structured learning environments, not constitutional microcosms in which students and administrators take on the rules of oppressed citizens and oppressive governments.
But all that being said, we also wonder if FWCS overreacted.
“Boobies” is not one of those toxic words that should be kept out of polite society. It has been used in both television and radio accounts of the suit. It is even published in local newspapers, and newspapers are the most self-censoring medium on the planet when it comes to vulgarisms. It is not the kind of word likely to cause a major disruption in the education mission. Indeed, taking the bracelet away has probably caused more disruption than the bracelet itself, which the girl is said to have worn for weeks with no one noticing.
And the student is trying to raise awareness of a serious issue. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, and the money raised by the support group that sells the bracelets goes to raising breast cancer awareness. Schools are supposed to get students ready for the real world, and that requires serious discussion of the difficult issues in that world. In insisting that the discussions be on the schools’ terms, educators need to be careful not to ignore approaches just because the students have favored them.
But, some of you might protest, isn’t the “I (heart) boobies” campaign demeaning? Despite its good intentions and whimsical approach, doesn’t it reduce women to mere body parts instead of respecting the whole person? Well, that is an excellent point, isn’t it? It would be a worthwhile addition to the discussion. When you start thinking in terms of encouraging mature debate, anything is possible.