The Tinker Test of Reality
By Dominick S. Pangallo


Bill of Rights A public school, this morning.

"Article four please."
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particulary describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

"Thank you." My teacher turns and writes on the chalkboard: 1791--The Bill of Rights. "Today we continue our discussion on civil liberties. To review, why were civil liberties important to the Founding Fathers?" A hand raises. "Yes?"
"They wanted to protect the American people from the tyranny that they had suffered while under British colonial rule."

"Very good. The history of American freedom is the history of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the American Constitution. This is basic American history--it is how we got where we are now."

American history class, today. The Bill of Rights is history. It is the past: written and ratified by a bunch of dead white guys more than 200 years ago. That's what our teacher is telling us right now. But we don't take his word for it.

"Okay, people, who can tell me what symbolic speech is? Right, a nonverbal act intended to convey a message. How about imminent danger?" Another hand. "Go ahead."

"Um, you can only be punished for statements if there is an imminent danger that the statement will incite an unlawful act."

"Right. Now, lets......." The bell rings. Our principal speaks over the public-address system.

"All students to their lockers, please." So we go.

It is a commonplace routine now in our school. We all stand by our respective lockers in the hallway. I look down the corridor. We are all still dressed in the school uniform: gray pants and white shirts. The rows of students have the appearance of regimented soldiers--indentical and at attention.

First is the random breathalyzer test. I pass, as does everyone else who must take it accourding to lottery. The scratching sound of the drug-sniffing dogs on the tiled floor moves down the hallway. It takes them forty minutes to go from the metal detector at the school entrance to the last locker in the hall. A student near me has not used a school-issued lock on his locker, so his is cut off and his locker searched. Nothing is found besides a few textbooks and a jacket, which is thoroughly gone through. Next is the random locker search. Today, every eighth locker is checked: nothing. In fact, I don't belive anything has ever been found during the searches, but they are standard school policy now. One hour later, it's over and we return to class.

We take our seats. Our backpacks have been searched while we were in the hallway, and our personal belongings are scattered on our desk. A couple of minutes of cleaning up, and then we return to our lesson.

"Now," my teacher says, "where were we? Oh, yes, civil liberties."
A public school, this morning.

Dominick S. Pangallo is a student, and this essay earned an honorable mention in the 1998 HumanistEssay Contest
Note: The above image is the joint resolution of Congress proposing 12 articles as amendments to the Constitution and was enrolled on parchment by William Lambert, a Clerk of the House. It was signed by Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, Speaker of the House, on September 28, 1789, and by John Adams, President of the Senate, shortly thereafter. The Bill of Rights, as this parchment copy is now known, is on permanent display in the Rotunda of the National Archives.


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