The First Amendment, and its recognition and protection of Americans’ rights of free speech and thought, was the culmination of various interwoven threads of Enlightenment thought. It was born from centuries of oppressive intolerance for dissent, nonconformity, and uncomfortable ideas — intolerance that was more often than not backed up with violence and imprisonment.
Yet many high school students arrive at college with little recognition of the importance of this right. That’s why for Constitution Day this year — Sept. 17 — FIRE is offering high school teachers a lesson that will help them impress upon students not just what their First Amendment rights are, but also why they are so valuable.
FIRE’s 2019 Constitution Day Lesson kicks off this fall’s release of five full high school curriculum modules designed to reach students with the message of how free speech is vitally important in protecting the freedoms and interests of all Americans, regardless of race, color, class, or creed.
The standards-based lesson includes a prepared PowerPoint slide deck, summarized reading materials from John Locke, John Milton, and John Stuart Mill, and accompanying discussion and critical thinking questions. It also includes a summary of recent statements on free speech by living American presidents, and a short video featuring former President Barack Obama eloquently defending the “battlefield of ideas,” in order to help students connect past with present.
In addition to our Constitution Day Lesson, we invite you to explore, and to share with students, our other K-12 First Amendment educational resources:
- Fully developed curriculum modules on the philosophy, history, and law of free speech for use by middle and high school educators.
- A brand new, interactive First Amendment quiz for K-12 students
- Our annual Free Speech Essay Contest for high school juniors and seniors
- Our free speech comic book, “Finding Your Voice,” with its accompanying Lesson Plan
We are currently offering $25 Amazon gift card rewards to the first 100 teachers who complete our feedback form after using our curricular materials.
Our updated class offerings are well timed both for the new school year and for the current moment in speech and discourse. A recent survey of American students found that nearly 50 percent stop themselves from openly sharing ideas or opinions in class discussions, due to fears of growing intolerance. This level of inauthenticity weakens and diminishes the academic experience for everyone.
At FIRE, we’re working to reverse that regressive cultural trend by delivering thoughtfully prepared and easily accessible curricular materials aimed at making all classrooms places welcoming to open discourse, rigorous debate, intellectual challenge, and fresh, original voices and ideas.
Also, be on the lookout for the additional curriculum modules that FIRE will be releasing this fall. They include units on handling offensive speech and on current free speech issues, as well as bonus modules on teaching “healthy discourse” and a debate activity kit.
Constitution Day is the perfect time to proudly and unapologetically reclaim our inheritance as American citizens. Let’s teach students in high school and college to exercise their rights to disagree, to freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of opinion — both inside the classroom and beyond.
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.