Young Adult Lit/Crit

March 3, 2008

Sledding Hill, 1st amendment, and public schools

Filed under: Chris Crutcher/Author Study — allison @ 10:51 am

Hi Everyone,

Sledding hill awakened my interest in the rights of students at public schools. This seems to be a recurrent theme in Crutcher’s books. I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss the rights of students. It seems like a constant anthem of high school kids to shout “first amendment,” but what they fail to understand, is that this is a limited right. At public schools, the right is more readily available than at private institutions.

Here are a few cases:

Tinker, 1969, a landmark case that ruled “school officials may not punish or prohibit student speech unless they can clearly demonstrate that it will result in a material and substantial disruption of normal school activities or invades the rights of others.”

This law is especially interesting if you have read Whale Talk. The protagonist wears bloody clothes to school for an entire week.

Since Tinker, student’s rights have been limited, and in a court of law, it’s doubtful that the bloody clothes would be allowed to stay. Did anyone follow the bong hits for Jesus story?

In regard to banning books from the library, it seems that when these cases go into court, they books keep their place on the shelves.

Keeping them in the classroom curriculum can be a little harder.

Here’s some key information from the above website:

“Brennan noted that the “special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students.” Nevertheless, he emphasized that his decision was a narrow one, limited to the removal of books from a school library, and not extending to the acquisition of books or their use in the school curriculum. Brennan also recognized that local school boards had “broad discretion in the management of school affairs,” and said that if a board acted solely upon the “educational suitability” of the books in question or solely because the books were “pervasively vulgar,” such actions would not be unconstitutional.

“Since Pico, First Amendment litigation involving book censorship in schools has usually turned on the rights of a school board to control classroom curricula by prohibiting the use of certain texts and/or an inquiry into whether a certain challenged text is “vulgar.””

Ok, there are some facts. Have at ’em.




  1. Allsion,

    I found a great website ( with tons of information pertaining to censorship issues, not just with books, but in other media as well. I found it particularly englightening when Karen mentioned the real issue with the books in her classroom was not the language, but the ideas. Books which help students question the authority and legitamacy of the establishment, either religious or secular, indeed are dangerous to the establishment. They have good reason to be worried because once someone’s mind is opened up, it’s difficult, if not impossible to close again.


    Comment by scrollman — March 3, 2008 @ 11:28 am

  2. Allison, thanks for sharing this information. I agree that students’ rights and ownership over their own education is a recurrent theme in Crutcher’s books. How long, frankly, would a class like Lloyd’s or Lemry’s operate in most of the public schools around here for example? As I “visited” these teachers’ classrooms I was not optimistic that the frank discussions they describe having w/students would fly in many schools. Not all, but many. All it takes is one offended student sensibility (which we see in the novels of course) and the class and/or teacher would be shut down. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — March 3, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  3. The distinction between books in the library and the classroom is interesting to me. Is the library seen as a place where there is more student choice? Conversely, is the classroom viewed as a place where a teacher forces students to read regardless of their interests?

    Karen’s comment reminds me of something I did in my own 8th grade classroom. My goal was student-directed conversation, so I told students to pick ANY topic they wanted to talk about and just start talking. I was looking for even participation, respectful discussion and thoughtful comments about the topic. They suggested several topics: drugs, sex, the uniform policy and gangs. We talked about them all.

    I wonder now if an adminstrator had walked in on these articulate and thoughtful conversations how it would have be received. I wonder if any of my students were uncomfortable with the topics. I personally look back on those discussions as proof that students are capable of more than many teachers think, and that they are dying to talk about something that actually has meaning to them.


    Comment by sostrom — March 3, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  4. I agree Sarah. Students are DYING to talk about topics of interest to them. I see our role as helping them then reflect (w/reading and writing) on those key topics that unsettle them and/or delight them…KES

    Comment by sunyprof — March 3, 2008 @ 12:44 pm

  5. I’m always interested in student’s rights, and have to admit it really depends on where you are. Many of the topics I put in my books couldn’t be talked about in a lot of schools. That’s always bothered me because when I was a teacher in the seventies there was a lot less outside interference (particularly in alternative education). I was at a conference on intellectual freedom in Reno, Nevada not long ago and one of the conservative members of the panel said something close to, “Actually, this discussion is over before we start because if you’re under eighteen you don’t have any rights.” I knew that wasn’t right, but I didn’t know exactly HOW it wasn’t right. Different answers in different places. I did hit him with students who were over eighteen, but hit him in a bigger way about TEACHER’S rights. AND, most of this argument happens outside the courtroom, which is the most important aspect. In the end, we have to ask ourselves what kind of education we’re giving our kids.

    Comment by Chris Crutcher — March 4, 2008 @ 5:45 am

  6. Wow! I can’t believe the person said 18-year-old students do not have rights. It just proves his or her complete ignorance. Scary that these people would influence education in any way.


    Comment by allison — March 4, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

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