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Do your students know what they’re free to say online? At school? On a public street corner?
From censorship to cyberbullying, the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects are as hotly contested as ever. This case study is part of our EDCollection that explores 16 real free speech debates ranging from the founding of our nation to recent headlines to illustrate what free speech actually means, where it comes from, and how far it can go. It’s information everyone needs to voice their opinions and shape our society.
Using This EDCollection
This EDCollection is designed to meet the needs of a wide range of circumstances and curricula. Whether you’re a social studies teacher looking for a complete unit or an English teacher looking to spend a single class period on free expression, there’s something for everyone. This complete package will lead students to the outcomes below.
Build Fact-Based Arguments
The Free Speech Essentials curriculum aligns with state and national standards as it guides students to take a position, find evidence to support it, and make a compelling presentation to their peers. Potential evidence includes:
- Writings, images and video from 1787 to 2018
- Primary and secondary sources
Connect Past and Present
Six of the eight pairs of case studies in this EDCollection juxtapose real historical and contemporary debates on a key free expression question. These pairs allow students to explore the historical origins of a key question — and get context for tackling today’s hot-button issues. The other two pairs provide different perspectives on a contemporary issue. Topics include:
- Federalism and Facebook
- Presidents and the press
- Censorship and cyberbullying
Keep Calm (and Debate On)
Our case studies are structured to help students experience the passion of the real players, while still practicing productive debate. We provide everything you need to prepare and fully support your students as they engage in civil discourse and debates:
- Overviews of the outcomes
- Clear scenarios and suggested positions
- Suggested discussion prompts.
Today’s social and political landscape can sometimes make free speech and First Amendment controversies seem too explosive for classroom exploration. We’ve created Free Speech Essentials to give you the tools you need to start tackling these vital topics with confidence and create enriching experiences for your students.
— The NewseumED Team
You are an administrator at a small, liberal arts college in Vermont. The leaders of a student organization have invited a well-known but controversial author to speak on campus. The club takes pride in trying to start conversations about challenging topics. Your college also supports intellectual debate and curiosity, knowing that can sometimes make people uncomfortable or upset.
This particular author holds some controversial ideas about issues including race, intelligence, equality and education. Critics of his work say he is racist. The author’s most recent book explores what he presents as a growing divide between elite and working class whites in America. Some critics have suggested the book is an attack on the upper class. Others say it promotes white supremacy. Club leaders have said they hope the author will be able to address questions about these criticisms and more when he speaks on campus.
Another student group on campus hears about the author’s upcoming visit and is outraged that your institution would host someone they believe is racist. They plan to fill the auditorium and, as soon as the speech begins, stand up and shout over the author while holding signs of protest. You warn potential protesters that they will be disciplined if they protest in ways that interfere with the author’s speech, but the angry students don’t seem like they will back down.
Should you cancel the speaker’s visit?
No. Allow the event to proceed.
It’s not your job to decide which viewpoints are valid. Students will likely protest this speaker, but that’s not a reason to cancel the visit.
Yes. You have to prioritize keeping peace on campus.
The event will almost definitely spark protest and possibly even violent disagreements. Protecting student safety is more important than providing an opportunity to be exposed to controversial viewpoints.
- Does freedom of speech mean people have the right to be heard without interference from others? How much disruption, if any, should be allowed?
- What might be some other ways for the protesters to show their disapproval of the author’s views without preventing him from speaking?
- Public and private universities can handle these situations in different ways, because private institutions do not have to respect the protections of the First Amendment. Just because these private institutions are free to put more restrictions on speech in place, should they? Why or why not?
- Should educational institutions host speakers who have controversial viewpoints that might lead to protests or even conflict?
- Is there a way for colleges to hold events with controversial speakers that also allow opposing viewpoints to be heard? How would you organize such an event?
- What, if any, rules or restrictions should be put in place to decide who is or is not welcome to speak on a college campus? Who should be allowed to invite speakers to campus?
- Do you think colleges should encourage an environment with diverse opinions? What are the arguments for and against this approach?