A Day Without the Bill of Rights

By Amanda of Beverly High School , Massachusetts   (1991)

It was a Monday morning and I ran through the doors of my high school to quickly get my books from my locker and make it to homeroom before the bell rang.  It wasn't an unusual start of the day, for I was always running late, especially on Monday morning.

What was unusual though, was when I opened my locker, I noticed my locker "decorations" – which I had so proudly arranged – were missing.  How could that be?  Where did Tom Cruise, my J. Crew Men and Monet disappear to?

Suddenly I heard the deep voice of my housemaster behind me say, "Your locker is much better now, isn't it?  Those pictures simply aren't suitable for an institution of education.  Hurry along now, or you'll be late."

I was aghast!  My housemaster had gone through my locker without my knowledge, for no legitimate reason at all.  He had changed the one place in the entire school that was mine, a place (as small as it was) that I could identify with.  Whatever happened to my protection from unreasonable searches and seizures? 

I finally made it to my homeroom, and then was on my way to my first period class.  I soon noticed a teacher headed straight for me, there was no mistake.  He had that perturbed look upon his face, and finally told me that my Madonna Blonde Ambition World Tour T-shirt had to be taken off, or else I would have to leave school.  What was I to do?  If I refused, I knew at this point, that things would only get worse.  Whatever happened to freedom of expression?  He explained that the music I was advertising was inappropriate and (again) not suitable for an institution of education.

After changing into more conservative attire, I walked to my next class and picked up a copy of our school newspaper on the way.  I was excited to see the editorial I had written about drinking in the high school.  It was my first editorial and I felt that I had conveyed my message well, a message that I didn't condone drinking, but said that experimentation may be necessary for some adolescents.  To my surprise, my editorial was omitted.  In fact, the whole editorial page was missing, and the issue of the month, which was supposed to be "drinking amongst teenagers" was altered to "the dangers of drinking amongst teenagers."  I was outraged!  The whole student paper was written by our administrators.

My day ended, as it began, with yet another confrontation with my headmaster.  This time, he had called me down to his office and informed me that I had skipped a class yesterday and would receive in-house suspension tomorrow.  Yet again I was outraged and knew, of course, that it was a misunderstanding, because I had done nothing of the sort.  My housemaster told me that there was no need to explain, for what was done was done.  Instead of being presumed innocent, I was presumed guilty.

I left school feeling like half a person.  The incidents had stripped me down to nothing.  Every vibrant, unique and exciting trait had been squeezed out of me.  I no longer could enjoy looking at my locker decor, wearing the clothes I wanted to wear or speaking the things that were on my mind.

I felt totally defenseless.  What was the shield that protected me from such abuses before?  What had preserved my own character from growing dull and drab when being forced to conform to society?  What had actually given me courage to do what I had previously been doing on my own? This protection I had carried around all my life without even knowing it.  I hadn't realized its strength until I lost it.  But what was it?

I turned to pick up some loose papers that had been torn from an American history book.  They read: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to...."

I then realized that for so long, I had put ten powerful weapons to use, without realizing it.  Today was quite different though, for today was the first day that my weapons became dull, useless and powerless.  It was the day I noticed their presence, and unfortunately, it was a day too late.  The Bill of Rights had lost its strength and I became weak along with it.


Amanda wrote this essay in 1991 to illustrate what student life would be like without the Bill of Rights.  Could any of the things she describes happen in your school today?  Which ones?  Do you think students had more rights when Amanda was in school than they do today?