Dam silly

I admire people who stand up for their rights, but . . . This just doesn’t seem worth making a fuss about. A 12-year-old girl was sent home from school in Needville, Tennessee when she refused to change her T-shirt, which the principal felt violated the dress code’s ban on vulgarity.

The T-shirt says, “Somebody went to the Hoover Dam and all I got was this ‘Dam’ T-shirt.”

When Heather Mercer, 12, wore the shirt Thursday, she was told to change or be disciplined. She refused, claiming it’s her First Amendment right to wear it, and was sent home.

Her parents support her decision to fight.

“I love it. It’s my constitutional right … talking about the dam,” Mercer said.

Oh yeah, this isn’t just a juvenile play on words. It’s about the freedom to laud dams.

Mercer said she would be back at school Monday wearing the controversial T-shirt again. She and her family have agreed to fight it all the way, even if they have to home-school Heather.

Dam silly.

About Joanne


  1. Huh. My parents would have simply told me to change my shirt and quit complaining. That is, if I had been allowed out of the house wearing it in the first place. Fascists! They used to make me do chores, too. I was so abused.

  2. And the lesson they are helping their 12 year old learn is …??? What? That you can be a pain in the ass at any age?

    How about teaching the brat that there are rules to be followed and if you don’t always like the rules – TOUGH – suck it up and wait till you are in a position to change them. School is not a place to parade your “first amendment rights” – it IS a place to go learn. Teach her the lesson of obeying authority and following the rules. It is a precursor to “getting along in the work place”. You don’t like what your boss wants or says, great, go look for another job. It will be a hard lesson for the poor girl to learn sometime in the future.

  3. lindenen says:

    I wonder what would happen if the schools required uniforms.

  4. Well, it isn’t really a bad word.

    But, the parents of this girl are pure crazies.

    I wonder where people get the idea that public offensive speech is a right guaranteed by the Constitution?

    You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    Once again, the Onion News is left in the dust by reality.

  5. I’m afraid I agree with the girl and her parents. As far as vulgarity goes, “damn” is on the same level as “blasted”.
    So you’re right: it isn’t worth making a fuss over, but it’s the school authorities who are making the fuss. So the school authorities are the ones being silly.

    Mike, although I agree this isn’t a 1st Amendment issue, the school is a quasi-governmental institution (much like most prisons), not a workplace, and the administrators are not her boss.

    The parents are teaching the girl a good lesson: when morons in quasi-governmental positions of minor authority do something stupid, the proper response is to fight back, not bend over and spread your cheeks.

  6. I have to side with the administration on this one. The girl did not receive any initial punishment. She was told to change her shirt or be punished. I can see the administration being reasonably concerned that if the let the “DAM” shirt slide the they will have the “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” shirts next. And how about other misspellings of obscenities?

    I believe that the schools have the right to have a dress code. If they have that right I don’t see asking someone the change out of a shirt that could reasonably be considered in violation of the dress code as being a big deal. Unless there is some type of inconsistent enforcement of the policy or other bigger issue that is not in the story the young lady should have just changed the shirt.

    By the way, I don’t know how many times I had to change clothes in Junior High and High School. I always thought it was unjust and I kept pushing the boundaries. Now I realize that because the boundaries were set at such a trivial level I did most of my pushing in a safe environment. I feel sorry for kids these days who have a hard time being able to rebel because everything goes.

  7. Bruce H. says:

    Here’s another vote for the student. Illegal abuse of authority is never too trivial to resist.

    Schools can’t arbitrarily ban any expression the administration is unhappy with. The Supreme Court has ruled (Tinker v. Des Moines) that public school students do not shed their constitutional rights at the school house door. A school can limit students’ freedome of speech only if the administration reasonably believe that the speech will be disruptive. It’s hard for me to imagine any federal judge who would buy the argument that this t-shirt could reasonably be expected to be disruptive.

    The school could very likely get away with banning any shirts with writing on them, or could require uniforms, as someone else noted. But once it allows t-shirts with messages, the range messages it can ban is fairly restricted.

  8. Personal opinion, some of you are nuts. I don’t think it is a big deal one way or another what the girl has on her shirt. But if the school administration has a problem with what is on the shirt and makes a request that the girl not wear the shirt the request should be honored. Hold the administrators accountable for how well the kids learn and for providing a reasonably safe environment but at least give them the benefit of the doubt on this type of trivial mess. I would hate to work somewhere where every little thing I did was subject to such second guessing. Use the “N” word as an example of an offensive word and you have people calling for you to be fired. Try to enforce a dress code and you have people accusing you of “Illegal abuse of authority” and saying you are a moron who is trying to bend people over and have your way with them.

    And by the way, when I say I think you are nuts I mean it in the nicest possible way. 😉

  9. Steve LaBonne says:

    Wait till that girl grows up and gets fired becuase she refuses to accomodate her way of dressing to the requirements of her workplace. Perhaps then she’ll realize that her parents taught her the wrong lesson.

  10. Steve: I think that you might be underestimating the girl.

    Some teenagers — the more intelligent, engaged ones — are able to understand the distinction between a public school and a private employer. Rebelling against the authority of the school when you believe it’s been abusive (even if it’s trivial) doesn’t always mean that you’ll then rebel against your employer.

    The shirt itself is rather silly and not something that I would fight over, but fighting for the principle of the thing (here free speech) isn’t necessarily silly.

    Of course I might be wrong and the kid might just be a spoiled brat.

  11. Eric Holcombe says:

    Just for the record, that’s Needville, TEXAS. We can spell the four-letter ‘cuss’ words here in Tennessee…. ;o)

  12. Andy Freeman says:

    > When Heather Mercer, 12, wore the shirt Thursday, she was told to change or be disciplined.

    How was she supposed to accomodate their request?

    Back in the day, I didn’t bring an extra change of clothes to school. If I needed to change, I had to go home, which was something of a feat when I took the bus.

  13. Claire says:

    I live just down the road from Needville, Texas, and I have to say that this doesn’t surprise me.

    First off, the school district administrators probably don’t know the difference between ‘dam’ and ‘damn’. Second, this is Bible Belt country, and these folks are notorious for having no sense of humor. (A friend’s daughter got sent home from the local Christian school for having the bottoms of her blue jeans frayed. See, she competes in horse shows and her spurs wear the bottom seam on her jeans. Nope, had to go home and change ’cause it didn’t meet the strict dress code.)

    It is the place of school administrators to set rules, and it is the role of teenagers to rebel. Usually it is over something ridiculous, because we protect our children from every little thing that might disturb their pleasant little worlds with reality and the real world. So the kids spend all their time and energy getting bent out of shape over little, insignificant things. And school administrators and parents are just as bad; perhaps worse, since they’re the ones supposedly in charge.

    A tempest in a teacup, and both sides are probably going to enrich a bunch of lawyers over it. If I were the dictator in charge, I’d knock a few heads together….

  14. The shirt says DAM, people, not ‘damn’, DAM.

    Yes, it is a play on words, but the word in question is NOT a swear word, a swear word simply sounds like it. The fact that the school has decided that a legitimate word cannot be used because there is a swear word that sounds the same tells me that there’s something wrong with the school–not the parents or the child.

    Teaching your child to fight ignorance is a good thing.

    Will the school take action to ban teaching about dams in the future? Have little black marks across the word to shield young eyes from those shameful beaver dams?

    This kind of idiocy MUST be fought. I’m glad that there are some people out there willing to fight it.

    Remember what happened to the poor professor who dared to use the word ‘niggardly’.

  15. I wonder if the parents were simply on the verge of home-schooling anyway.

  16. Jack,
    It was not a professor who used the word niggardly it was a government office. Something like an assistant city manager if I remember correctly.

    If it is ok to wear clothing that does not correctly spell obsenities I guess you would have no problem with shirts that say things like “Fuk Skool”, “Screw You”, or “Fuk you up the ass”. After all FUK is the airport code for Fukuoka, Japan (seriously), a screw is something that is used in carpentry classes so we can’t ban the word, and an ass is merely a donkey.

  17. Rita C. says:

    About this time of year, I am pretty much sick of the whole dress code thing. At least it was a t-shirt. Did you all know micro-minis are back?

    Seriously, I view it as requiring the children to show some taste. For some, it’s their only shot. I’ve seen young teachers interview in those outfits. They do not get hired. Mercy.

  18. Harvey says:

    Isn’t a dam a female horse?

  19. “Seriously, I view it as requiring the children to show some taste. For some, it’s their only shot.”

    And there it is in a nutshell.

    The “dam” on the shirt is not about a dam. Come on. Suppose the parents had gone to see the Brooklyn Bridge – would the kid wear a shirt saying “all I got was this bridge t-shirt”?

  20. I really hope that there is more to the story than this.”She and her family have agreed to fight it all the way, even if they have to home-school Heather” just seems stupid. If you’re going to pick a cross to die on, at least pick an issue that is slightly more significant.

  21. Rita C. says:

    A female horse is a mare.

    A dam is a mother horse, dog, and several other species.

  22. Harvey says:

    As this “city boy” who grew up to be, on paper, an “ingineer” – somewhere along the line I learned that Rita C is correct, a dam is a female mother of some species, – in my education, a horse.

    Silliness aside –

    The first sentence of this topic:

    “I admire people who stand up for their rights, but . . . This just doesn’t seem worth making a fuss about.”

    Brings up an issue totally unaddressed. More of a rhetorical question: So, at WHAT point, is it worth making an issue about? What if it were discrimination? At what point do we draw the line there? Reminds me of the argument about if we don’t address X now, because it doesn’t affect me, what do you do when it DOES impact you. To be binary – it is like being a “little bit” pregnant. As has been pointed out – it appears that public schools may not practice what they supposedly teach about Constitutional rights.

    Over on “Zero Intelligence” Jack Mitcham put it very nicely on another issue regarding Constitutional Rights of students (the lack thereof):

    “It is interesting… students that attend school aren’t there by choice. They do not agree to these tyrannical rules as part of a contract, and neither do their parents. They are there, because it is the law. They go to these public schools by default. If you want to get out of these tyrannical schools, you have to jump through prohibitive hoops (paying a ton of extra money in the case of private schools, or taking up a second job as a teacher, and begging the government to approve your cirriculum for your own kid in the case of home schooling.) Not everybody can afford this (taxed to pay for the public schools whether or not they will send their kid there), so they have to put up with it.

    Since neither the kids nor parents have a choice in whether or not their kid goes to school, one would think that in a perfect world, constitutional protections would be given to students forced to attend government schools.

    Alas, this is not a perfect world.”

  23. Walter Wallis says:

    Admit it, JJ. You make up these silly items just to rile the citizenry, don’t you?

  24. Richard Heddleson says:


    Sort of like letters to the editor about pantaloons.

  25. Harvey,
    Nice post. I still disagree with you but you set forth your ideas very well and made a very good case.

    In a nutshell, I support the administration of the schools as long as the rules are not overly onerous, odious, or racist. I will like to see schools held accountable for the quality of the product they produce. However, I am a big fan of not giving anyone responsibility with out giving them the authority to accomplish what you are asking them to do. Side issues such as uniforms, dress codes, and prayer don’t get me overly excited as long as the kids are receiving a quality education that is measured by some agreed upon objective standard.

    I think it is absolutely foolish for people to get worked up because an administrator wants to have and enforce a dress code. I don’t see what is to be gained by trying to handicap professionals who are trying to do their job as best they can. Once again, there are occasions when administrators cross over the line (the post on here about planting drugs in a students locker would be an obvious instance) and I am totally for holding administrators and teachers responsible for doing a good job.

    An interesting, to me anyway, aside. I used the thesaurus at dictionary.com to try and find an “O” would to use instead of racist. One of the synonyms given is “opinionated person”.

  26. My family went to Washington DC in my junior year of high school — I remember it was that year because it was the year that Star Trek TNG ended, and we made sure to get home in time to watch the finale. We did a lot of shopping, and I got several cool shirts including one of “The Clintstones”, one with a map of the DC Metro on it, and one from a t-shirt shop in the Georgetown Mall.

    It said: “Captain Kirk: Hate Space. Hate McCoy. Stole Shuttlecraft. Kiss My Vulcan Butt! -Spock”

    I wore it to school one day, and my sixth-period English teacher said, in an aside, “Josh, perhaps ‘kiss my Vulcan butt’ is an inappropriate thing to wear to school.” I was appropriately chastised and didn’t wear it again to school. (This was back when I was a rule-following ‘good citizen’.)

    Nowadays, I would expect nothing more than a suspension. Fortunately, I went to high school in the early- and mid-90s, not in the late-90s and early 2000s.

  27. Mad Scientist says:

    If I ever have a kid, I will name them “Nigger”. Than complain when the teachers refuse to call the child by his given name.

    BTW, I am white.

  28. Ross, there were no ‘incorrectly spelled obscenities’ on the shirt. There was a word, that is in common use in the English language on the shirt that sounds like a swear word.

    Your example regarding ‘FUK’. the airport code for a Japanese city, is wholly irrelevent as the acronym is neither a word, nor is it in common usage.

    Laura, the ‘dam’ on the shirt CLEARLY refers to a dam–it says so. AND, the word that so vexes you is spelled ‘damn’. The shirt is humorous due to the play on those words–however, there is nothing intrinsically offensive about anything on the shirt. Anyone who chooses to see a swear word is doing so wholly within the confines of their own mind.

    Regarding Ross’ double entendres, the pun on the shirt is not one. Dam is only able to be a double entendre when spoken–when written it becomes obvious that it is not the swear word.

  29. Eric Holcombe says:

    “Dam is only able to be a double entendre when spoken–when written it becomes obvious that it is not the swear word”

    So…the shirt ISN’T funny then? Humph!

  30. Jack,
    I hope you don’t believe what you wrote? I guess I need to take a break from reading the comments because driven like that just chaps me. I understand where the Libertatian “resist authority” types are coming from and while I disagree with them I also know that it is quite possible they are right. I don’t thing they are but they could be. Harvey made a good case that I disagree with but it was intelligently made. I am even on record as saying that I don’t blame the kid for wearing the shirt, it is what kids SHOULD do.

    But Jack, your argument is just asinine.

    However, it should not irritate me so much so I guess I better just take a few days off from the boards. If anyone wants to have the last word use my email address to respond as I won’t be checking the board for a few days.

    Regards to all

  31. Regarding harvey’s comments that students don’t have a choice in attending school: Well, in large fashion that is true. However, many schools now have a practice of providing a copy of the school/district rules and dress code to students, and then requiring the student (and also the parent) to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the rules and agreeing to abide by them. They also usually list the consequences of disobeying. So neither the child nor the parents can truly say they were unaware of the rules. (Of course, many sign and never read them. People who sign things without reading what they’re signing deserve everything that happens to them.)

    Although this story doesn’t say, it’s quite likely that such a policy may be ineffect. In that case, this would be a deliberate and flagrant flouting of the rules and punishment would be correct.

    My issue is that stories like these seldom provide enough information to make an intelligent decision about the incident. I consider this to be sloppiness on the part of the person writing/editing the report. However, obviously, the intent is to convey a message, not provide all the facts for readers to make up their own minds. Apparently, many journalists (and I use the term loosely) feel honor-bound to make these difficult, moral decisions on our behalf and then just tell us how to think.

  32. “Laura, the ‘dam’ on the shirt CLEARLY refers to a dam–it says so.”

    Oh, please.

  33. harvey says:

    Claire –

    Your observation:
    “However, many schools now have a practice of providing a copy of the school/district rules and dress code to students, and then requiring the student (and also the parent) to sign a form acknowledging receipt of the rules and agreeing to abide by them. They also usually list the consequences . . .”

    is a valid one, however it does not address the lack of choice the vast majority of students/families have.

    An analogy is that many companies today require an applicant pass a drug screening test as a condition of employment. If you need the job to support your family you have to pass the drug test – regardless of whether or not you do any illegal drugs, you HAVE to take (and pass) the test if you want the job. So if the LAW says you must go to school and you have no financial alternative to public schools, it doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with “the rules” and/or sign (away your rights) their paper – – –

  34. I am from Needville and there is much more to the story than what has been reported.
    The girl was not suspended, the dad just took her home.
    She was offered another shirt and refused.
    She had been told to not wear the shirt previously and wore it again.
    The brother wore the shirt to the Intermediate school the day before and turned the shirt inside out when asked.

  35. Kimo, is there a dress code?

    Or is this a case of the play on words being assumed to offend?