Bong hits 4 disicipline

Daniel Henninger:


It is no exaggeration to say the basis for the decision was akin to passing a camel through the eye of a needle. For space reasons, I will briefly "interpret" Chief Justice Roberts's ruling. What he said is that the list of things the Constitution forbids a child to say in our public schools is very short. You can say almost anything. But as of Monday, the list is a little longer: You can't engage in speech "promoting illegal drug use." Hereafter, speech "promoting illegal drug use" may be regarded as "disruptive" to school life, as defined by the Supreme Court in Tinker (1969), Fraser (1986) and Kuhlmeier (1988).


Meanwhile, Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, took about half a line to say, "I agree," and proceeded to write one of the most compelling essays I've seen on the decline and fall of American public education. I would happily hand out Justice Thomas's opinion on street corners (though relieves me of that burden).

What he's done is rummage back through school cases, mostly from 19th century state courts, to invoke the idea of a public school. His premise is that the schools' role was most certainly in loco parentis, in that they and parents broadly agreed on what made an adolescent grow into a good person; what schools need least is court interference in this hard job.

A North Carolina court in 1837 spoke of the need "to control stubbornness, to quicken diligence and to reform bad habits." In 1886, a Maine court said school leaders must "quicken the slothful, spur the indolent and restrain the impetuous." An 1859 Vermont court spoke of preserving "decency and decorum."

Missouri's court in 1885 found reasonable a rule that "forbade the use of profane language." Indiana's in 1888 ruled in favor of "good deportment." An 1843 manual for schoolmasters speaks of "a core of common values" and teaching the "power of self-control, and a habit of postponing present indulgence to a greater future good."

Antique words from a world long gone? Even Justice Thomas admits "the idea of treating children as though it were the 19th century would find little support today." I'm not so sure about that. How else can one explain the flight from the public schools--into home-schooling, parochial schools, private schools and even charter schools, which invest public principals with greater control? Parents are spending thousands to have what American schools had from 1859 to 1959--some basic measure of the Three Ds: decorum, decency and diligence. Self-control as a higher "common value" than out-of-control.

Justice Thomas argues that the 1969 Tinker case dragged the schools into a morass of arcane First Amendment jurisprudence. He's right.


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