Frequently Asked Questions

Why did FIRE create this curriculum?

FIRE has long believed it is necessary that students have a foundation on the principles of free speech before they head to college. We created these free speech curriculum materials in response to strong demand from educators as well as growing concern about declining civics knowledge and eroding support for First Amendment freedoms among American students. The launch of FIRE’s Speech, Outreach, Advocacy, and Research (SOAR) project, supported by a $2.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, made the development of new curricular materials specifically for high school classrooms possible, allowing FIRE to take its most decisive step yet towards fulfilling its goal of reaching high school audiences.

Who helped to develop this curriculum?

Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder, D.Ed., FIRE’s High School Outreach Fellow, is an honors graduate of Harvard College with Masters and Doctorate degrees in education. She earned three public school certifications and has worked in public schools in New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia. She has also taught numerous, varied classes in departments of Education in public and private universities (in Pennsylvania and South Carolina) for 14 years, and has written several books on educational topics. She presents regularly at educator conferences around the country.

What does the curriculum cover?

The curriculum materials cover the philosophy, history, and law behind our current understanding of First Amendment free speech rights in the United States. It includes reading selections from John Stuart Mill, John Locke, John Milton, Frederick Douglass, and others, as well as discussions of several historical events (abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights) in which free speech rights were of paramount importance. It also includes key Supreme Court decisions that outline the scope of modern free speech rights, and clearly explains the legal limits on free speech.

What does the curriculum contain?

The curriculum contains teaching standards and learning objectives, prepared PowerPoint slides with accompanying lecture outlines, reading resources, critical thinking questions, suggested assignments, test questions, and activities, among other resources.

What state or national standards does the curriculum meet?

The curriculum is aligned with several national teaching standards and learning objectives, including AP U.S. History, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and the National Council for the Social Studies, and it is compatible with Common Core. We have included relevant state standards for New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as well.

Who can use it?

These curriculum materials are available for free use by educators at all levels, in public and private institutions. Students and other interested persons may also access and learn from these materials.

What grade level is the curriculum intended for?

These materials were created for the high school level, but can be adapted for use by other grade levels, ranging from upper elementary to college.

For which subjects can teachers can use these materials?

These lessons are appropriate for history class discussions on the Enlightenment, the Constitution, and other historical events with a free speech component (e.g. abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights). These materials are also relevant for English classes dealing with writers such as John Milton or Frederick Douglass, or with topics relating to free expression, the search for truth, or open argumentation/debate.

Counselors and administrators will find these materials helpful in explaining free speech rights and limits, and respect for competing opinions, to students. Journalism teachers, school newspaper advisors, and debate coaches may also find these materials helpful.

These materials can also be adapted for use by various student groups at the college level, or by administrators or faculty involved with campus orientation events.

How much time should I commit to teaching using these materials?

That’s up to you! We understand that teachers face different limits on their time and have varying amounts of flexibility. We have designed these lessons to take from one to five class sessions. Some educators may only be able to devote one class session to our materials, while others may have time to commit several. We fully encourage teachers to adapt our materials to fit their needs, and to be creative in how they use them to foster discussion about free speech with their students.

How are the materials accessed?

Each of the three units available on FIRE’s website is downloadable as a single ZIP file, which contains a corresponding PowerPoint presentation and PDF files of all other supporting materials. If you experience any difficulty accessing or downloading the files from FIRE’s website, please contact highschooloutreach@thefire.org.

Will FIRE be releasing additional materials?

Yes. FIRE is in the process of creating additional units to supplement the currently available curriculum, and will also be releasing updates and expansions to our existing materials throughout the year. We will make sure to notify those on our high school outreach mailing list when we post new or updated materials.

How do I make sure I receive updates from FIRE about the development of its materials?

You can join our mailing list by filling out this brief form to receive future messages from FIRE regarding developments in our work.

Is FIRE interested in feedback from teachers?

Yes! If you have suggestions or feedback, we would love to hear from you. Please send comments to highschooloutreach@thefire.org.