Cinco flag shirt incident: Kids out of control

I have no idea what five students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill have in mind by way of career plans, but they should take up acting. They're good at it.

First, these mischievous lads -- whom right-wing radio hosts have predictably dubbed "The Morgan Hill Five" -- acted as patriots. One day, they just spontaneously got the urge to wear to school T-shirts adorned with American flags. The mood just happened to strike them on Cinco de Mayo.

Assistant Principal Miguel Rodriguez -- fearing that the boys' attire might provoke a violent response from Latino students who told reporters that they see the faux holiday as "their day" -- approached the youths and ordered them to either turn their T-shirts inside out or go home. The boys chose the latter -- and started acting like victims, insisting that the school was picking on them.

Then, when the story got national attention and the five teenagers were touted as heroes for standing their ground, they acted like defenders of the First Amendment. Considering that, according to other students, the boys aren't known to wear American flag shirts any other day of the year, maybe they were making a statement after all -- the kind you make to drivers who cut you off on the highway.

Finally, now that more details have surfaced, it looks like the boys have, all along, been acting like brats. While it's true that it is not the school district's policy to ask students to remove patriotic clothing, and Rodriguez is in hot water, it is also true that administrators at Live Oak High School asked students beforehand not to wear flag clothing on Cinco de Mayo -- any flags, of the United States, Mexico or Estonia. That's because there had been tensions last year, according to what a Morgan Hill school board trustee told The Associated Press.

Initially, I was prepared to argue that Rodriguez overreacted, that the boys' rights were trampled on, that the American flag shouldn't threaten anyone, and that there was something racist about the assumption that Mexican- American teenagers would react to the Stars and Stripes like a bull reacts to a red cape.

Then I heard the rest of the story -- no thanks, by the way, to those conservative commentators who are blowing this incident out of proportion because it fuels their narrative about how, due to changing demographics, white people are being overrun, the cultural apocalypse is at hand, the Mexican flag is overtaking the American flag, Spanish is drowning out English, etc.

The important thing to remember is that these five boys openly defied school authorities not once but twice. It's obvious they wore the T-shirts to stick their fingers in the eyes of Mexican- American students and mock an ethnic celebration that they didn't feel had anything to do with them. They did this despite being told to practice restraint by administrators. And then when they were told to stand down, they refused.

Just whom do they think was in charge at that school -- the adults or the students? And, if the administrators give in to public pressure, then we should ask: Who really is in charge?

When I was in high school, and an administrator told me to do something or not to do something, I complied. I knew my parents wouldn't blindly take my side. It was more likely that I'd get another scolding when I got home -- or worse.

These days, many parents find it easier to defend their kids unconditionally than to raise them properly for the benefit of society. The result is a crop of defiant and narcissistic kids who demand attention and think rules don't apply to them.

Consider 17-year-old Steve Consalvi, the high school senior who recently jumped onto the field during a major league baseball game in Philadelphia, and wound up being subdued by a police officer with a Taser. What's more startling -- that the officer used a stun gun, or that Consalvi ran onto the field in the first place?

The cultural right wants to cast the story about teenage boys who got in trouble for wearing flag T-shirts as evidence that Americans are losing control of their country. Actually, it's evidence of something more real and thus more troubling -- that many Americans have already lost control of their kids.

Navarrette's e-mail address is