Every week should be #FreeSpeechWeek — at least, we think so at FIRE — but this week it’s official! Oct. 21-27 marks the 14th annual commemoration of Free Speech Week, a non-partisan event created in 2005 by a coalition of nonprofit organizations to celebrate the First Amendment. Free Speech Week celebrates the freedoms of press and expression in our democracy and encourages all Americans to pause and reflect on how lucky we are to enjoy these hard-won liberties.
“Unfortunately, as students enter college expecting to have more robust free speech protections than they enjoyed in secondary school, they are too often confronted with speech restrictions,” said Bonnie Snyder, FIRE’s director of high school programs. “Many incoming freshmen, having never been educated on the First Amendment, don’t even realize that these restrictions violate their rights.”
This is why FIRE has undertaken efforts to increase our educational outreach to K-12 students and teachers, with a variety of opportunities for students and educators to sharpen their understanding of constitutional freedoms in American life:
For Free Speech Week this year, we’re unveiling our brand new Debate Activity Kit. Our kit provides teachers with fresh tools and strategies to help students build comfort with challenging academic discussions. The kit will teach them that an “argument” is not something to be avoided or feared. Rather, they can begin to welcome the give-and-take of debate and discussion as opportunities to refine and improve their own opinions.
The kit includes:
- A student-facing presentation on the value of hearing opposing views
- A student-friendly explanation of “The Ideological Turing Test”
- Paul Graham’s Disagreement Pyramid
- In addition to our reading and lecture materials, we included a selection of videos on debate!
High school curriculum
To continue the festivities, we invite high school educators to browse all of our High School Curriculum modules. Whether it is philosophy, history, or even case law on the First Amendment, FIRE’s Free Speech Curriculum will help clarify today’s thorny free speech issues in ways that K-12 students can understand and appreciate. Students will discover how their rights can be threatened and why their own freedom of expression ultimately depends upon respecting others’ equivalent rights. To make sure you don’t miss out on the two additional curriculum modules coming this fall, on handling offensive speech and current free speech issues, make sure to sign up for our High School Network!
Comic book and essay contest
Last, but certainly not least, we invite high school juniors and seniors to apply for our Free Speech Essay Contest! This year’s prompt asks students to read our new free speech comic “Finding Your Voice” and determine how the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech can help an unsure student develop more informed opinions on the First Amendment and other topics. To recognize the hard work these students will put toward their essays, FIRE will award a total of $20,000 in college scholarship funds to the winners of the contest, including a $10,000 first prize.
We hope you enjoy this year’s Free Speech Week and remember that our First Amendment requires constant vigilance to ensure that its exercise is not eroded in practice. As freedom of speech and of the press are rights all Americans share, this non-partisan, non-ideological event is intended to be a unifying celebration of the liberties afforded to us all. From all of us here at FIRE, we wish you a happy Free Speech Week!
In need of First Amendment resources for teachers? The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has you covered. Our “First Things First” First Amendment textbook for college undergraduates explores the fundamentals of modern American free speech law. Meanwhile, our K-12 First Amendment curriculum modules help educators enrich and supplement their existing instruction on First Amendment and freedom of expression issues in middle and high school classrooms. Explore thefire.org for even more First Amendment educational resources.