Flaunting the Freak Flag, by Gael Graham

Teaching the Article
Exercise 4

Public Opinion

Although the editors of both of the main newspapers in El Paso--the El Paso Times and the El Paso Herald-Post--belittled the significance of the battle over hair length in the public high schools, both papers placed the story of Chesley Karr's challenge to school officials on their front pages and followed his story until it dead-ended with the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Karr's appeal. Both published multiple editorials about the case and the subsequent student uprising. Similarly, some citizens of El Paso found the matter significant enough to write letters about it to the newspaper editors. Four such letters are reproduced here. Two of the authors find the contest between students and school officials gravely important, although they disagree about which party is right. The other two authors differ over how the case should come out but (in contrast to the first two authors) agree that the issue is trivial. A fifth letter to advice columnist Ann Landers comments on one defense of long hair; it is not specifically related to the case in El Paso.

Why do Michael Smith and Clark J. Matthews believe the length of high school boys' hair is important? What other issues do they draw in to make their points? What values seem to undergird their opinions? In contrast, what does "I Like It Short" think about the hair debate? What does Ann Landers's reply suggest about her opinion on long hair?

Back in El Paso, why do Edna S. Kelly and Mrs. Harry E. Jordan dismiss the controversy as insignificant? What values permeate their views? Which letter writers wrestle most with the implications of long hair, and which seem to have some agenda other than hair? Why do they use Karr's case to pursue the other agenda? As a whole, what can these letters tell us about the 1960s?

Although the El Paso letters were chosen (out of a large stack of letters) because they cover the range of opinion--two pro-student, two anti-student; two seeing great signficance, two seeing much ado about nothing--the two letters that emphasize the triviality of long hair were written by women, and the two letters that emphasize its importance were written by men. Do you think this is a mere coincidence? What role might gender have played in forming these authors' opinions? Do you think "I Like It Short" was a man or woman? Why? In what other documents in the other exercises do you see ideas about gender and gender roles?

The last document in this section is an Associated Press report on Justice Hugo Black's dismissal of Chesley Karr's petition to have the haircut rule suspended while his case worked its way through the courts. Why does Black think Karr's case is not worth hearing? With which of the letter writers do you think Black would most agree? Why? Is the author of the news story a neutral reporter? How do you know?



A. Letter of Michael Smith to editor, El Paso Herald-Post, Feb. 1, 1971.
B. Letter of Clark J. Matthews to editor, El Paso Times, Feb. 8, 1971.
C. Letter of Mrs. Harry E. Jordan to editor, El Paso Herald-Post, Feb. 5, 1971.
D. Letter of Edna S. Kelly to editor, El Paso Herald-Post, Feb. 10, 1971.
E. Letter from "I Like It Short" to Ann Landers, San Francisco Examiner, June 23, 1971.
F. "Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Long Hair Case," El Paso Times, Feb. 12, 1971.