First let me clarify—I despise the “saggy pants” look common among certain classes of teenagers and young adults these days, and ok I know it’s been around as a style for well over a dozen years—even grade school kids try it out. I personally think the “saggy pants” is repulsive and tasteless and utterly without class. But that’s the whole point is it: I am entitled to my opinion. My right to my opinion is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, and the First Amendment has been absolutely, positively, unqualifiedly “incorporated” to and against state authority by the Fourteenth Amendment, according to dozens of cases decided by the United States Supreme Court. I am absolutely entitled to think that people who “sag” are philistines or idiots or both. Until he was 18, I was entitled to sternly instruct my son that if he sagged his pants he would lose any number of privileges (now I have no option but to accept whatever he does or disinherit him). But when the government takes over the parents’ educational decision-making power, do they also feel that they can take away the individual’s fashion-choice? It is a common theme of this blog that governmental welfare is the equivalent of buying slaves, of making free people into serfs. Nothing is clearer than that the oldest and most widely accepted form of government imposed welfare is compulsory education—but I suppose nobody discusses the analogy when they’re talking about Obamacare because the lazy populations of the world have accepted compulsory education as an acceptable infringement upon individual freedom and family choice. I take this opportunity to say, “BEWARE”—it is bad enough that the government, through the imposition of forced contracts of adhesion regarding marriage, divorce, and child custody, has invaded our homes and our family life to an astounding, historically unprecedented degree. But the idea of a STATE LAW regarding fashion at a PUBLIC school is intolerable to me. I can say with honesty I would rather male students wear swimming shorts to class than saggy pants, as a matter of my own idiosyncratic personal choice. But you may object to my routine (but lifelong) choice of all cotton plaid shirts and black/khaki pants and knee high stockings as ridiculous-looking—and I have no right to challenge your evaluation or to tell you that you can’t wear you polyester and lycra whatever it is you may be wearing. It is all a matter of individual freedom and person choice. God Save the Queen and God Bless America, in all the Anglo-American lands that I love. The State Government of Florida has now crossed a line, and I am writing here to say: this is an abomination: if the State can legislate the angle at which our children wear their pants—then the State legislature of Florida needs to be quickly put out of its misery like a large rabid multiheaded dog. What’s next? There are already controversies in England about wearing crosses to school that might offend the followers of Mohammed. There are controversies everywhere about public prayer and other outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual state of grace. Will they outlaw my plaids because they are ethnically biased towards the Scots? My khakis because the remind some of Anglo-American imperialism in the Tropics? Or will they tell me that my Brooks Brothers and Burberry labels are inherently racist imperialist products? Worse yet—what if they were? Would I not still be entitled to dress as I please?
My young assistant Peyton Yates Freiman tells me solemnly that “rap” is changing the face of American culture in his generation, and that the “rap” culture is the origin of the “sagging pants” ritual form of “semi-undress.” I have asked him if “rap” is popular because it suppresses the ever so painful thought process. He did not respond. I think it could be so…
But here and now from the Sunshine State comes yet another compulsory government welfare program (designed to cater even to social and religious conservatives)—mandatory or “compulsory” public education (violation of which laws can put parents in jail in almost any state—for merely doing without parents and children had managed to do without since the beginning of time)—collides with the First Amendment—Government Welfare and Freedom are antithetical. Most people in the world these days consider public education a right—the minimum that the government must provide. I disagree. I think that education in literacy is essentially a private matter, which together with religion and family should be left to the individual and the family.
About five or six years ago, I got an insight into what’s really going on with public education: it’s all about state control, not about Freedom. I had had received lots of indications that this was true: from Judge Michael Jergins, various guaradians ad litem including Laurie J. Nowlin, and even from my own brief experience in public school grades 1-5 at JS Armstrong in Highland Park, Texas: modern public schools and jails look very much alike, and this is not an accident.
But the experience that finally convinced me related to something very special that Jon Drew Roland, Senator Jerry O’Neil of Kalispell, Montana, and I tried to do: based on our joint and common evaluation of basic legal knowledge as essential to good citizenship, we agreed that all nobody should finish High School without knowing AT LEAST the equivalent of First Year in Law School. Specifically, every adult needs to know at the very least, the basic elements and principles of (1) contract law [who can make it through life without making deals?], (2) tort law [in this careless, overprotected, overinsured and generally overregulated world, we all both risk civil injury and to be at a disadvantage if we cannot understand the basic principles of compensation for civil injuries of myriad kinds], (3) criminal law [we have all heard that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” but unless we have been educated in the law…. we will all be ignorant, (4) civil procedure [again, see comments on need for tort law—but everybody needs to know the elements of what it means to sue and be sued—at least half the population will end up in a divorce or child custody suit sooner or later, probably that many differently profiled will end up in suits or at least claims relating to injuries to person or property resulting from auto accidents or other torts] (5) criminal procedure [there’s no use knowing what the law is if you can’t handle yourself if you or a friend or loved one gets arrested, (6) property law [because everyone either owns or wants to own something in the way of real and/or personal property], (7) Constitutional Law relating to the government [because we all want to turn 18 and vote for people who supposedly represent us in something called “the government” by way of “democratic republican processes”, and (8) Constitutional Law Relating to individual rights [because, as Monte Python’s character Brian exhorts the crowd in the movie Life of Brian: “We are all individuals” and even if we aren’t we think we have individual rights.]
Roland, O’Neil and I jointly drafted and submitted similar proposals to the Annenberg, Ford, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations to implement, over a three-to-five year period an experimental program like this under our supervision in the state High Schools of Montana. We just barely got by first review in the MacArthur Foundation before we were shot down, and didn’t get that far with Ford or Annenberg. It was, to put it mildly, disappointing that nobody (Annenberg’s “education for freedom and democracy” rhetoric notwithstanding) was interested in implementing a really practical program for freedom and democracy, even in a small state with a relatively large underprivileged population where hiring a family’s hiring a lawyer is much less likely than even ordinary dreams like owning a nice house or a nice car.
If compulsory education were really a tool for equality and democracy, it would be axiomatic that legal education in those eight subjects could be provided (along with minimally adequate coverage of Geometry, Calculus, Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History, Physics, English reading and writing….) in 3-4 years of High School (depending on how you characterize the ninth grade). I note with horrible chagrin that there is some talk of making two more grades compulsory (the equivalent of the first two years of Community College) but after several frustrating years of part-time teaching at Austin Community College—I frankly think that the whole Community College experiment is a major disaster—just more “welfare” to keep young adults in extremely advanced “childcare” and off the streets—and out of politics and especially to keep them from thinking for themselves in any meaningful way—Compulsory education was probably working during the first fifty-sixty years or so from 1880-1930/1940, but after WWII—it seems that somehow the educational standards sank like stones not just nationwide but worldwide, and for the last sixty-seventy years I would say that mandatory/cumpulsory public education has mostly been a laugh and a half—a total washout: kids who want to learn will learn, but those who don’t won’t—but High School is not a crucible for a free society—every movie which parodies High School life makes it clear that High School is preparation for totalitarian domination and submission in life. It’s got to stop. I think that they heyday of America was when Mark Twain wrote about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn running away—and now they arrest runaway kids exactly the way they used to arrest runaway slaves and they return them in chains to their homes—and this, they call, America?
Freedom in this country really is an illusion, a swindle, a dream. I said this for the first time in a speech I made (in 1976) to a symposium on “Freedom” when I was a sophomore at Tulane University in New Orleans—and the shock on my fellow students’ faces that I would say any such thing was a trauma to many of them—except to one particularly cute blonde girl with round glasses who came up to me afterwards and told me she loved the way I said “swindle” and asked me to repeat it over and over again…but I digress….ehem….
The statistics on functional illiteracy among High School graduates may have improved slightly over the past few years—in large part due to the use of standardized tests which do not really test literacy or anything else relating to actual educational achievement except the ability to take standardized tests. Schools are the sites of many of the routine confrontations between Government Sponsored Welfare projects and Freedom in this Country, especially First Amendment Freedoms. The latest comic lack of relief from Florida is but a shining example: