On Friday, hundreds of the brightest young people from across America will lend their cheeks and their forearms to send a message to the censors back in Wentzville, Missouri, that they aren’t fooling anyone.
Friday is “Timberland Tattoo Solidarity Day” at the National High School Journalism Convention in Portland, Oregon — an event we hope is the last of its kind. It’s meant to show some terrific and badly mistreated kids at the St. Louis-area high school that the whole country is behind them, even if their own school board is not.
Timberland Principal Winston Rogers, with the backing of his boss, Assistant Superintendent Melody Marcantonio, has enforced a series of arbitrary and at times laughable restrictions on what students may publish in the Wolf’s Howl newspaper and in the yearbook. These include Rogers’ now-infamous ban on any mention or display of a tattoo, which led to the temporary impoundment of an edition of the Wolf’s Howl over a postage-stamp-sized photo depicting a student’s tattoo in memory of a classmate who died of cancer.
Everyone understands what is going on at Timberland, and it has nothing to do with teaching journalistic standards, since no professional publication would ever enforce such a nonsensical rule. It’s an attempt to grind down the students so that they’ll stop questioning authority and perhaps even quit journalism entirely, as their teacher did.
When hundreds of students — and some of their teachers, too — put on their temporary tattoos Friday, they’ll be reminding the administrators at Timberland (and any who are tempted to follow their terrible example) that censorship always fails in the end, because it always makes the school look ignorant and foolish. The mark that these administrators have left on Timberland’s reputation, and their own, is more indelible than any ink stain.