FIRE’s newest high school curriculum module addresses the social-emotional learning components of handling offensive speech

January 23, 2020

The principle of free speech is one thing; practicing it is another. 

Today, one of the most common arguments we hear against free speech is that people must be prevented from saying upsetting things. As we know, the Constitution protects offensive speech for a number of intellectually sound, philosophical reasons, which we’ve covered in our previously-released high school curriculum units on the philosophy, history, and law surrounding the First Amendment. But what about the emotional argument surrounding upsetting free expression? How can we make sure kids are equipped to deal with the interpersonal realities of living in a free society that values open expression? 

This challenge is why FIRE is responding to repeated educator requests for enriched free speech curricular materials specifically designed to help students handle offensive speech.

Because we understand that free speech is not merely an intellectual, historical, or legal issue, this new lesson module addresses the social and emotional learning (SEL) components involved in hearing and responding to difficult, but constitutionally protected, speech situations. 

Download the “Handling Offensive Speech” curriculum module

Our new Handling Offensive Speech module includes everything educators or parents will need to cover this essential topic with young people. Designed by an experienced school counselor, it contains relevant learning standards (including CASEL), prepared PowerPoint slide decks and lecture outlines, accompanying assessments, videos (including powerful, impactful advice from former President Barack Obama), scenarios to practice, reading resources, and classroom activities. This unit also teaches students speech guidelines to help preserve intellectual debate and foster an environment allowing for divergence or consensus. 

It also contains an important bonus module on “Teaching Healthy Discourse,” which includes original, engaging resources such as The Disagreement Pyramid, a guide to civil discourse in the classroom, three steps to civil discourse in the classroom, ways to respond to speech that offends you, civil dialogue guidelines, and more. 

Within this unit are strategies aimed at teaching students how to engage with “hostile viewpoints” in a productive fashion, and the benefits of speaking up even if you hold a minority opinion. The goal is to equip students with ready responses to handle a wide array of life’s slings and arrows capably, with increasing resilience and growing self-confidence as they successfully overcome and master challenges. 

And, if you’ll review this new module, we will gladly send you a $25 Amazon gift card as a “thank you.” 

Many of the skills of interpersonal and emotional intelligence do not come naturally, but, fortunately, they can be taught and practiced until they become second nature. In this way, students can build emotional strength as they acquire a growing repertoire of adaptive responses to life’s inevitable adversities. 

We hope you enjoy and employ our newest free speech module and that it helps all of us remember that our First Amendment requires proper instruction and vigilance to ensure that its promise is not eroded in practice.

Download the “Handling Offensive Speech” curriculum module

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 for even more First Amendment educational resources.