Jonathan Zimmerman: You Can't Say That at School

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press).

Here's the type of question few are asking about the controversy at Philadelphia's Charles Carroll High School: What if student Samantha Pawlucy's T-shirt had read "Homosexuality is Shameful"?

We all know the answer: She would have been forced to change her shirt or go home. And most of us would be fine with that - which tells you all you need to know about the sorry state of free speech in American schools.

Pawlucy became a cause célèbre after teacher Lynette Gaymon criticized her for wearing a Romney-Ryan T-shirt in a "Democratic school." Gaymon, an African American, said it would be akin to her wearing a Ku Klux Klan shirt. The teacher's implication was clear: You can't challenge the accepted wisdom of your tribe when you're at school.

On that score alone, Gaymon was right. Anyone who thinks otherwise should consider the case of Tyler Harper, who wore the infamous "Homosexuality is Shameful" T-shirt to his California high school in 2004....

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