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Tinker and McCluhan meet


It’s not often in the confines of my brain that the names Mary Beth Tinker and Marshall McLuhan bump into each other. However, after reading about the travails of the Palmer family in Texas though, the two ’60s luminaries kept cropping up in my thoughts.

I don’t know if Pete Palmer and his parents even know who Tinker is, but they’re channeling her spirit down in Waxahachie, Tx. I’m relieved there are students willing to fight for things they believe in.

The situation the Palmers found themselves in is so ludicrous it defies belief. No. No, it defies any sort of common sense. As an editor I used to work with used to say, the administrators down in Waxahachie “ain’t got no walkin’ round sense.”

Young Pete, it seems, had the temerity to wear a shirt displaying the highly inflammatory words “San Diego” emblazoned upon it. This was a clear violation of a dress code stating that students could only wear clothing that had no messages on them. No messages! So Pete was disciplined and his folks then sued the district, saying his First Amendment rights had been infringed upon.

Now, I understand bans on shirts bearing alcohol brands or sexist stuff, but I don’t really get how a shirt saying “San Diego” can be offensive. I hear it’s a beautiful place, with great weather and all. Their baseball team is atrocious, but I really don’t think the Padres were entering into the situation here. Perhaps the administrators were offended by the fact they weren’t in San Diego.

So how does McLuhan fit into this? Well, based on his most famous saying, is it possible for these kids to wear anything without conveying some sort of message?

The message Pete Palmer was conveyed through his t-shirt. His t-shirt is his medium. Since it’s a medium, it must have a message. Following that, can you just stop at t-shirts? My white button down oxford shirts have a Banana Republic logo on them. My Adidas shoes have the three stripes on them. Don’t even get me started on all the different things designers do to jeans these days.

So the question I must ask of the Waxahachie School District is this: Following McLuhan’s saying, is it acceptable to wear anything to school in Waxahachie?

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