- Read First Freedoms: A Documentary History of First Amendment Rights in America
- Establish School-wide “You Be the Judge” Debates
- Give Your Students a “First Amendment 101” Mini-Course
- Revisit Your School’s Free-Expression Policies
- Sponsor an Annual First Amendment Day
1. Read First Freedoms: A Documentary History of First Amendment Rights in America
A rich and engaging exploration of the documents that illustrate the origins and development of First Amendment freedoms in American history, First Freedoms was highly recommended by the Library Media Connection (LMC) in a 2007 review. As LMC wrote, “In light of the fact that there is a federal mandate that all schools, elementary through university level, teach about the Constitution on September 17, Constitution Day, this book will be very valuable. There is a wealth of information and primary documents concerning the origins and attacks on the First Amendment.
“The various documents go from the Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1663 through the Patriot Act of 2001. Thirty-seven different documents are thoroughly discussed in this book. Pictures, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and more are presented. There is a timeline showing all types of events concerning freedoms. The authors have presented readers with an excellent bibliography, which is broken down into the various types of freedoms. All high school libraries and university libraries should purchase this book.”
To order First Freedoms, click here.
2. Establish School-wide “You Be the Judge” Debates
Every two weeks at fivefreedoms.org, a different “You Be the Judge” scenario is posted. Each scenario is based on an actual First Amendment school conflict. Encourage your students and/or colleagues to weigh in on how they think the case should be resolved. Then, when the court’s answer is posted, take no more than five or ten minutes at the beginning of a class or faculty meeting to let people share their thoughts about the court’s decision. Aside from spicing things up a bit, this is also a way to build greater understanding around what the First Amendment does – and does not – allow in a school setting.
The Five Freedoms Project “You Be the Judge” feature is no longer live, but you can view archived posts here.
3. Give Your Students a “First Amendment 101” Mini-Course
In partnership with Channel One, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has produced an interactive video seminar about the origins of student rights (and responsibilities) in America’s public schools.
The First Amendment 101 Video Series takes viewers through the origins of the First Amendment itself, as well as the evolution of student rights. Then, by using dress code scenarios as a way to explore the primary legal standards for determining the constitutionality of student speech, the series asks participants to consider a range of student t-shirts, and decide whether or not they pass constitutional muster.
To view the First Amendment 101 series, click here.
4. Revisit Your School’s Free-Expression Policies
Visit our free-speech Frequently Asked Questions to ensure your school is striking the right balance between honoring student freedoms, establishing useful school structures, and ensuring that adults are serving as authoritative, not authoritarian, sources of support and guidance.
To visit the FAQs, click here.
5. Sponsor an Annual First Amendment Day
To underscore your community’s commitment to individual freedom, schedule an annual First Amendment Day. Set up a “Speaker’s Corner” and encourage people to share their ideas and disagreements in a spirit of appreciative inquiry. Urge people to decide what central message(s) they want to share, and then have everyone create personal bumper stickers. Engage student journalists to cover the event. Invite the larger community. And be sure to ground all events in a shared commitment to abide by the following First Amendment “ground rules”:
- We all have the right to share our voices and ideas;
- We all have the responsibility to protect the rights of others — especially those with whom we most deeply disagree;
- We all share a commitment to debate our differences with respect.