The teacher’s T-shirt

When a high school teacher wears political slogans on her T-shirt, does that encourage students to think? Or prompt them to think like the teacher? Even the National Education Association is leery of teachers who use their classroom as a “pulpit,” says a Christian Science Monitor story on Hildreth Simmons, a literature teacher at Hollywood High.

Just about every day, Ms. Simmons shows up in her southern California classroom wearing a T-shirt with a provocative message like “War Without End? Not in Our Name” or “A Woman’s Place Is in Her Union.”

Her goal, she says, is to get students to ponder issues like labor rights, world affairs or, nowadays, the war in Iraq. “I am trying to provoke thought, and discussion,” says Simmons. “I’d like them to think.”

It’s hard to get students to think for themselves. It’s just about impossible when the teacher is flashing “correct answer” on her shirt.

Via SCSU Scholars.

About Joanne


  1. martin orangerie says:

    “I am trying to provoke thought, and discussion,” says Simmons. “I’d like them to think.”

    Perhaps she should lead by example rather than by slogan.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I know what I would thing if I were her student.

  3. Rita C. says:

    She shouldn’t be wearing t-shirts to school at all.

  4. lindenen says:

    Word to Rita C.

  5. This is the kind of lying sanctimony that drove me nuts in college. “Trying to provoke thought and discussion,” my ass–bet she never wore a t-shirt that said “An armed society is a polite society,” or “Unions: Throwing a wrench in productivity since 1932.” She’d like to provoke a pretty one-sided discussion.

    Feh. And a second nod to Rita C.

  6. The kids will learn to think all right. They’ll think the old hag must have a sad life if she thinks broadcasting slogans will start meaningful political discourse. I wonder if she puts bumper stickers on her car.

  7. Teachers are supposed to dress like professionals. not in the same type of attire that the students wear. We’re not allowed to wear jeans at our school except on Fridays – at some schools they cannot wear jeans at all! And another nod to Rita – must have some tenure going there!

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I would kinda like to suggest some student t-shirts. Something like “My parents paid taxes for an education but all I got was this Commie skank.”

  9. I have a few “smart-ass” T-shirts myself — with slogans like “Peace Through Superior Firepower” (with a fighter jet loaded with bombs) and “Imagine No Liberals.” Do I (or would I) wear them to school? Yeah — only on inservice days when there were no students present.

    My mentor and cooperating teacher was (is) a staunch conservative (social studies teacher), but he emphasized that I should never allow my personal views to enter into a discussion, or “broadcast” them to the student body.

    Extremely sound advice.

  10. Hummm, at first glance I thought this teacher was way off base. But then I remember that I costume up a bit now and then for lessons. The key thing here is FOR THE LESSON. Before I condemn the t shirt thing out of hand I’d have to know more about the context. Just immediately calling the wearer an old hag commie only polerizes people so that thoughtful discussion goes out the window.

  11. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If your nessage fits on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker, forget nuance.

  12. Questioneer says:

    “I am trying to provoke thought, and discussion,” says Simmons.

    Then she can belittle the students in class who disagree with her t-shirts.

    This reminds me of a World Literature class I took in college. EVERY poem, essay, short story, and novel we read was authored by a woman. When I had the audacity to ask in class if men had made any contributions to World Literature, I was pretty much derided as a small-town simpleton. Yeah, I dropped it. These are teachers, not preachers.

  13. Atlas –

    The point is that this woman is an English teacher, not a social studies teacher. She should be focusing on the literature, not on the current events. If she is using this as an excuse to “enhance the lesson” she is teaching the wrong subject.

  14. Jill, you are right about the subject taught making this more suspicious as an inappropriate action. It probably was, but I’m concerned about the tone of what is going on here. Questioneer just above leaps to the conclusion that the teacher is setting a trap for students so she can then then belittle the students. This is a wild accusation. Calm down folks.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Atlas, Questioneer is no doubt working from a base of experience.
    My experience is similar. I never had a tee-shirted, nor a sloganed tee-shirted teacher. But I know what happens when some dumb statement is promulgated as if gospel.
    Critical questions are ridiculed.
    I would give Questioneer about a 90% chance of being right.

  16. Tim from Texas says:

    Wearing a T-shirt almost everyday with a provocative slogan, it seems to follow, defeats her stated purpose. I’m sure the majority of her students’ eyes are glazed over, so to speak, most of the time. Therefore, the real occurrence there, in my opinion, is as follows:

    1. By doing so, she thinks everyone sees her as a highly motivated and thinking person.

    2. She likes to carry her political-thought-baggage with her most of the time, because most people have stopped listening to her.

    3. Her class is her captured audience.

    At any rate, she should learn that subtlety works far better in arguments than does the hammer.

  17. How disheartening. Wearing a slogan on your t-shirt isn’t the act of concerned, intellectual mentor. It’s the act of an activist. While this teacher is within her right to be an activist in her personal life, she is in school to teach. Moderately. In fact, her’s is the duty of moderating discussion in order to provoke thought, not to cheerlead for one position before any discourse occurs at all.

  18. slimedog says:

    Unprofesional and childish. My advice to her students: if someone dresses like child, treat her like a child.

  19. Questioneer says:

    I used the word “belittle” which was probably not a good choice.

    However, one must admit that the teacher is openly challenging the students who may disagree with the sentiments of her t-shirts. Students who, more likely than not, are not yet educated or informed enough to “win” the dabate. Students then watch the teacher out-talk her student detractors and declare her as the one who is correct.

    She wanted them to think, alright. Think like her.

  20. I teach college-level students. I make a very careful effort not to “broadcast” my personal political leanings to the class.

    Even then, it’s darn near impossible to get students to discuss anything controversial (I teach biology, so we get into things like stem cell research, cloning, the pros and cons of genetic testing and who should see the results). Most cases, one student seems to be the “spokesperson” for the class and no one disagrees with him or her. (I’m actually relieved to get a “contrarian” who wants to debate).

    I can’t imagine how much more difficult it would be if I walked in the door with “Free more embryonic stem cell lines now!” or “NO CLONES, NO NEVER” emblazoned on my chest.

    Also, what Rita said re: faculty wearing t-shirts to class.

  21. Rita is touching on what is the central issue here. Where is the line here? Teaching is more than dates and capitals and formulas. What we are engaged in is education. It can’t be sterile.

    I teach biology and environmental science. Evolution is a fact and I would have no problem wearing a Darwin t shirt to kick of a unit. Would that be out of line?

    Every teacher faces this challenge all the time. It can be a dicey call.

  22. Will the administrators allow her to wear her t-shirts to graduation??? hmmmmmmm……

  23. Steve LaBonne says:

    I would prefer to see teachers dress at least in a comfortable but professional “business casual” manner so as to set a good example for their students. All the teachers in my daughter’s middle school do so, and even the youngest male teachers wear ties most days. I’m with Rita in disliking the idea of teachers in T-shirts, with or without slogans.

  24. Atlas: at least your Darwin T-shirt would be on-topic in your Biology class. She was supposed to be teaching English Lit, not political science…

  25. I knew a guy who dressed as a monk when he taught genetics.

  26. I own some fun t-shirts. I’m wearing my Thoreau Sauntering Society shirt today, as a matter of fact. Please note that I’m running around doing errands, reading some email/blogs, hitting the barn to go riding, and doing housework. I’m not at school teaching. I’m not a fancy or snappy dresser by any means, but I do try to look like I’m at work when I’m, well, at work. A t-shirt at the beginning of one or two units per year is probably ok. You do have to have fun with the kids. Dressing like a monk sounds really cute. Personally, I tack t-shirts up on my wall — especially that Patriot’s t-shirt right after the Superbowl ;). Don’t worry. The kids got revenge. They brought me in Baby Ruth bars when the Sox went down in the Series.

  27. I teach 10th grade World History by day, and college-level US Government at a paralegal school by night. But I’m also the GOP Precinct Chair and Election Judge in my town. I make that known early on.

    Why do I do this? Truth in advertising. Both classes get into current events and contemporary issues, and I think my students have a right to know my point of view. At the same time I invite them to disagree and urge them to argue. And I make a point of trying to give a fair presentation of multi-faceted issues.

    In the case of my high school kids (75% minority), I’m just about the only Republican some of them have ever met. Consider it giving them a diverse education.

  28. Mark Odell says:

    atlas wrote: Evolution is a fact and I would have no problem wearing a Darwin t shirt to kick of a unit. Would that be out of line?

    It would depend on whether you behaved as in Questioneer’s hypothetical example: deride, belittle, or otherwise browbeat your students who disagree with your openly-stated position and who ask inconvenient probing questions; or OTOH whether you answer their questions calmly and forthrightly with facts and logic (possibly even admitting “I don’t know” when that is the accurate answer).

  29. Questioneer says:

    Democracy is man’s greatest acheivement. True or false?

    This was a question on a government final I took in high school back in 1986. The teacher was openly Republican. I answered “false” because I felt like this was an opinion and could not be proven as true. My answer was marked as incorrect. It cost me an A. He would not budge.

    I took a civics class the previous semester under a Democrat teacher. I assume she was because she said Carter was one of the best presidents ever. I disagreed and mentioned that he had given away the Panama Canal. She told me in front of the whole class that I was wrong because the U.S. lease on the canal was up and Carter had no choice. This, of course, is wrong and I offered to trot over to the library and grab a book to prove it. I was told to be quiet or I would be sent to the office.

    Please excuse my cynical nature about some teachers and their motives. I would much rather they stick to the facts and leave their personal politics out of the classroom.

  30. mike from Oregon says:

    Her message (via her tee-shirt) seems rather obvious. The idea of if she acts like a child, treat her like a child doesn’t work too well if you are dependent upon her for your grade. She obviously has an agenda and isn’t shy about it. A good supposition is that if you disagree with her point of view, your grade is in peril.

    Reminds me of all the essays that we were suppose to write giving “our opinion” – later they would come back marked wrong. Never really understood how an opinion could be wrong, but I did see it affect my grade.

  31. Speaking as a student, yes my grades are probably contingent upon parroting opinions in many cases. However–and this is something that my teachers should know(but don’t seem to)–my respect for them depends upon their respect for me, demonstrated by how they dress for class as much as by how well they react to dissenting opinions. If they teach propoganda _and_ dress like they do for yardwork, I will likely put as little effort as possible (to get the lowest grade necessary) into that class.

    I don’t know that this would matter to most of the ones I’m describing, though. I’m nothing but a larva.

  32. stolypin says:


    For what it is worth, I thought your post was the best of the bunch.

    Even if one should start off with a presumption of respect for our teachers (or our bosses or colleagues), that respect is not a life time entitlement. We as teachers (I am not a teacher) or bosses (I am a boss) or friends (I think I have a few) must earn the continuation of that initial respect.

    I have to disagree with your last sentence though. As much as I respect self-deprecation, I suspect, based on the thoughts you ennunciated clearly in your post, that you are far from “nothing but a larva”. If I had to guess I think butterfly would be a more apt self-description. (Hope that doesn’t sound patronizing – wasn’t meant to be.)

    Good post. Ivan

  33. Let me clarify my larva comment: that’s how many of my professors see me. I see myself more at the pupae stage, in the middle of the metamorphosis into a professor. 😉

  34. stolypin says:

    Point taken Holly. I am at a much later stage in life (probably much, much later) but I continue to hope that I have a few more ‘morphs’ left in me. 🙂

  35. I started internal musing on questioneer’s comment above. The test question about democracy being man’s greatest achievement. True or false. I’d have put down ‘acquiring the ability to speak’. ‘Fire’ would be up there pretty high too. But since the teacher was a republican, you might have said, the death penalty, to ingratiate yourself.

    Holly, Consider yourself Homo Sapiens Juvenalis. A promising one at that.

    Just feeling light hearted this morning. Nobody take offence.

  36. Speaking as a conservative Republican, I would have answered that question as “false.” I would argue that man’s manipulation of his environment to enable survival in all climates and conditions (even sea and space!) to be the greatest achievement. It has allowed us to dominate the planet and to move beyond its grasp.

    Not bad for a bunch of ambitious anthropoids.

  37. How about the ability to use/produce weapons? This development allowed humanity to climb to the top of the “food chain.”

  38. It’s sloppy scholarship to insist that opinions are ‘true’ or ‘false’. Give that teacher an ‘F’.

  39. stolypin says:

    Claire, you are quite right. The question says a lot about the person who drafted it – and none of it is good IMHO.

  40. JimInNOVA says:

    “A woman’s place is in her Union.”

    Bleh. Nothing like joining an organization that gives you your opinions in order to feel empowered. Besides, my mother always told me that a woman’s place was in the house. Or the senate.

  41. Questioneer, please tell us you had to support your answer with a paragraph or two and it wasn’t just a check mark on T or F. Counting you off on an opintion question is bad enough. I get depressed about teachers who muck up my profession.
    Anyway, it is a little strong to say that Carter personally gave away the Panama Canal. It was a negotiated treaty between the two countries and ratified by two thirds of the Senate. Of course, ahem, we did steal it in the first place.

  42. Mike from Oregon:

    I also remember all the “my opinion” essays in college. I was an engineering student in a senior level literature class in college (don’t ask how that happened). The prof required a short 3-5 page essay on each book or short story on the reading list. After getting back my third F in a row I approached him after class, while most of the students were still in the room, and asked about my grade. He started the conversation with “I can understand your frustration with me not liking your essays…” At which point I interrupted him by slapping the side of my face and loadly exclaiming “Oh! I get it now. I’m suppossed to write stuff you like. I thought you wanted my opinion!”

    The remander of the class was laughing very loudly as I turned and walked away.

    Due to extenuating circumstances (again don’t ask) I couldn’t drop the class. I kept turning in opinion papers, and the prof kept disagreeing with my opinions. But to his credit, from that point on he disagreed with red ink comments in the margins and not via the grade at the top of the page. I got a B in the class.

    As for getting students to discuss things in class my high school literature teacher used to walk into class. Hold up the book we had just read and ask “What did you think?” Then she would sit back and moderate the debate. Everyone had an opinion and expressed it. She had made it very clear that if anyone didn’t express their views verbally in class we would all have to do so in writing. So we all made sure that everyone joined in the discussions. It sometimes got a little loud in the there, but never angry or out of control. She didn’t allow that. Amazingly enough we seldom if ever learned her opinion of any of the books we read that year.

    The only opinion I remember her presenting was that she didn’t like Fahrenheit 451, the images of book burnings gave her nightmares.


  1. Hube's Cube says:


    Hildreth Simmons of Hollywood High School (yes, that one) is known for wearing T-shirts with provocative slogans on them: Just about every day, Ms. Simmons shows up in her southern California classroom wearing a T-shirt with a provocative message like…