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Tinker vs Des Moines Supreme Court Case


Between 1964 and 1973, millions of Americans took part in a countless number of protests against the Vietnam War. With thousands of young American soldiers being killed every year, the protests and opposition became the fabric of this social movement that defined a generation. In 1965, a small group of students in Des Moines, Iowa made a clothing decision that would soon result in a landmark Supreme Court decision.

Student Activities for Tinker vs Des Moines Include:



Tinker v. Des Moines Teacher Guide


These students in Des Moines, led by John and Mary Beth Tinker, decided to wear black armbands to school to symbolize their opposition to the American involvement in the Vietnam War. This decision was in violation of a new school rule which banned the very thing they intended to wear. Although the school district allowed campaign buttons and political leaflets, they did not allow anti-war arm-bands. The now historic “Tinker Children” were suspended from school for wearing these arm bands and soon set forth on a journey throughout the U.S. Court system that had to determine whether a student has the Constitutional right to protest inside of their classrooms.

These activities aim to have students research and analyze how the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the rights of students. Throughout this guide, students will be asked to explore how the concept of Free Speech has been interpreted throughout the Tinker v. Des Moines case.


Essential Questions for Tinker v. Des Moines

  1. To what extent should schools be able to restrict students’ freedom of expression on campus?
  2. How did the Tinker case establish First Amendment freedoms for students?
  3. What controversial action led to the Tinker Case?
  4. Which First Amendment rights were involved in this case?
  5. Why did the school district argue against the Tinker children?
  6. What is symbolic speech?

Additional Activity Ideas for Tinker v. Des Moines

  1. Create a T-Chart that compares other protests that have occurred in schools throughout American History.
  2. Create a timeline of the major events of the Vietnam War.

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