In 1965, thirteen-year-old Mary Beth Tinker sued her school for allegedly infringing upon her right to free speech after she was suspended for protesting the Vietnam War. In 2021, students continue to stage protests and host walkouts to advocate for their rights, some facing disciplinary consequences for doing so. How do these historical moments connect, and what can we learn from examining them together?
In Discovering Justice’s Mock Appeal program this spring, middle school students growing up in a time of political tumult and protest learn about Tinker v. Des Moines, the landmark Supreme Court case that established and delineated students’ rights to free speech in schools. On May 6th, our students will have the opportunity to speak with Mary Beth Tinker, the plaintiff of that very case, in a virtual conversation and Q+A hosted by the Mock Appeal program.
It’s not every day that students get to speak directly with the individuals responsible for catalyzing groundbreaking achievements in the law, let alone to hear the reflections of a person who accomplished this feat at the same age as many of the Mock Appeal participants. However, this event will provide an opportunity for our student attorneys to do just that.
In this session, Tinker will share reflections with the students about her work participating in student activism, becoming a plaintiff in a national civil rights lawsuit, and subsequently charting a path as a national leader in efforts to empower students to advocate for their rights. Students will have the opportunity to ask Tinker their own questions about her experiences and how her advocacy can inform their understanding of the law and civic engagement.
Hearing about Tinker’s activism will provide opportunities for students to incorporate the lessons from her efforts into their own work within the Mock Appeal program and beyond. “Students will get a real connection between what they have been learning about free speech in the program and real life,” said Luke Matys, Discovering Justice’s coordinator of the Mock Appeal Program. “When they meet and speak with Mary Beth, that historic change becomes more real and accessible.”