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Constitution Day is right time
to apply for FAPFA recognition

Posted by on Sep 17, 2018 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Lori Keekley, MJE
As advisers, we work to support student journalists on a daily basis.

Taking a moment today to apply for the First Amendment Press Freedom Award is a great way to symbolically show this support.

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Ways to celebrate Constitution Day 2018

Posted by on Aug 18, 2018 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

The Scholastic Press Rights Committee is again excited to provide lesson plans and activities to help you celebrate Constitution Day and the First Amendment. Constitution Day recognized Sept. 17 each year, and we have a trove of new and archived lessons and activities to help you raise awareness of the First Amendment’s rights and applications for students.

Take a look at the new lessons:

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When hatred speaks, we must speak back

Posted by on Sep 11, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Exploring the First Amendment on Constitution Day

by Kristin Taylor

In 2004, Senator Robert Byrd attached an amendment to a federal spending bill to create a new national observance: Constitution Day. This amendment required public schools and government offices “to provide educational programs to promote a better understanding of the Constitution.”

“I hope that kids understand that in this country, everything that we do in everyday life is touched upon by the Constitution of the United States,” he said in an interview. “It protects our liberties and it protects our freedom of speech. It protects our religion. It protects the freedom of speech so the newspapers can tell us the news every day.”

As a member of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee, it is especially important to me that students explore the First Amendment on Constitution Day, a critically important conversation to have in the face of today’s political climate and the rise of hate speech.

The 2017 Newseum’s State of the First Amendment survey showed an uptick in political speech this year — petition and assembly are two of the five freedoms, and almost half of those surveyed took advantage of them this year. It also showed overall agreement that a watchdog press is crucial, yet 22.5 percent of participants supported the claim that First Amendment freedom protection goes too far.

I suspect that number would be higher were the survey to happen today in the wake of Charlottesville and similar events.

Like many educators, I am troubled by the uptick in hate speech across the country and by white supremacists’ use of the term “free speech” to label rallies that are really about hatred. But as despicable as hate speech is, the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed, it is still protected by the First Amendment. It is not among the categories of unprotected speech defined by court cases over the years.

How can we face our students of color, our Jewish students or other students from marginalized groups and tell them that supporting the First Amendment means supporting the right of groups like the KKK or Nazis to spew this kind of hatred?

The American Bar Association has a good article to start the conversation. It outlines the difference between hateful speech and hateful acts using relevant court cases, and it defines libertarian and communitarian viewpoints on the issue. It also gives an example of how this played out on one college campus.

A more compelling question to ask our students is if they trust our government — and future governments — to decide what is offensive. Some European countries do, and this suggests that democratic societies can have reasonable, differing views on the matter. But others argue “the freer the speech, the stronger the democracy.”

But I think a more compelling question to ask our students is if they trust our government — and future governments — to decide what is offensive. Some European countries do, and this suggests that democratic societies can have reasonable, differing views on the matter. But others argue “the freer the speech, the stronger the democracy.”

In my experience, my more liberal students are quick to say the government should ban offensive speech, and my more conservative students believe everyone is afraid to speak because of “political correctness.”

To even begin a meaningful conversation, students first need the facts, and Constitution Day is a great time to provide them.

I recommend starting by clarifying that the First Amendment is about how the government doesn’t have a right to censor or punish speech; it has no bearing on how private citizens, companies or employers choose to react. White supremacists’ constitutional right to speak will not shield them from counter-protests, public humiliation via social media or personal consequences, such as being fired by a private employer. Similarly, social media platforms owned by private companies such as Facebook or Twitter are not public forums set up by the government, so they have the right to censor any content they deem offensive.

This leads into the second point: the danger in giving the government the power to censor is that there isn’t a common understanding of “offensive.”

In a blog post explaining why the ACLU filed a lawsuit defending provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech, James Esseks, Director of the LGBT & HIV Project, expressed the deep divide between Yiannopoulos’ hateful speech and the ACLU’s core values: “Here at the ACLU, we vehemently disagree with Mr. Yiannopoulos’ views. We work hard, every day, with the very communities he targets, to fight for equal rights and dignity for all. We recognize that his words cause grievous pain to many individuals, their families, and their loved ones.”

However, he goes on to write, “Without free speech protections, all civil rights advocacy could be shut down by the people in power, precisely because government doesn’t agree with the ideas activists advance. That was true of the civil rights fights of the past, it’s true of the movements facing pitched battles today, and it will be true of the movements of the future that are still striving to be heard.”

Many people believe speech about such issues as abortion, gender identity or sexuality are offensive, Esseks argues, and “if First Amendment protections are eroded at any level, it’s not hard to imagine the government successfully pushing one or more of those arguments in court.”

This is the heart of the First Amendment — the question of whether we trust the government to regulate our speech and define what is offensive and what is not, or if we want to retain that freedom ourselves.

This is the heart of the First Amendment — the question of whether we trust the government to regulate our speech and define what is offensive and what is not, or if we want to retain that freedom ourselves.

That said, student editorial boards are not “the government.” They can and should make ethical decisions about what to publish, and they have a right to refuse to publish hateful speech, though I would caution them to differentiate between “hate speech” and student opinions they dislike. They also have the right and the responsibility to act as ethical leaders who take informed positions in unsigned editorials.

The editorial board of the nationally award-winning Harbinger Online provides a great example of ethical leadership in response to hateful speech in their most recent editorial, “Burn the Eastonian.” The Eastonian is an underground student newspaper known for its “diabolical” and “abusive” attacks on and lies about students, teachers and administrators, and this editorial makes a compelling case to convince students to end this “most shameful tradition.”

This editorial demonstrates how punishment and censorship are seldom as powerful as more speech can be. According to the piece, this tradition has been going on for decades, despite threats of suspension, being banned from school activities or legal consequences (I assume for the libel, which is a form of unprotected speech).

These deterrents didn’t end the Eastonian last year, but the Harbinger’s passionate editorial might. By naming the problem, humanizing the victims, explaining the consequences — not just to the perpetrators if they get caught, but also to those defamed and to the reputation of the school — and providing examples of prominent students in the community who have pledged to take no part in the Eastonian, the Harbinger editorial board has shown the power of more speech in the face of hate.

Schools across the nation will celebrate Constitution Day on Monday, Sept. 18, this year.  I urge you to use this opportunity to bring to the surface difficult conversations about hate speech and the First Amendment.

In addition to the resources I’ve linked to in this blog, you should also check out the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee’s 2017 Constitution Day lessons.

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Introduction to news literacy

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Kristin Taylor


Introduction to News Literacy


In order for students to understand the importance of the freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment, they must understand the responsibilities that come along with this freedom. It is not enough to have a free press — we must be able to evaluate our news and vary our news diets. This lesson provides a foundational understanding of news media literacy and asks students to reflect on their own news media habits to escape our filter bubbles and avoid fake news. Although this lesson is formatted here as a 60-minute class period, it can be approached in a number of ways. The presentation could happen in specific classes (social studies, English, etc.) or to groups of students (school assembly, class meeting, advisory groups) with the discussion happening immediately or in a follow-up class.


  • Students will be able to define and explain the difference between traditional news sources, non-traditional news sources, news aggregators, partisan news sources and fake news sources.
  • Students will be able to define and explain the difference between objective news, news analysis, opinion and native ads/sponsored content.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the importance of news media literacy in a democratic society.
  • Students will reflect on and evaluate their own news media literacy to determine how they should continue or change their current news habits.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.



60 minutes

Materials / resources

Whiteboard and markers

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Handout: TrumpBriefings_newslit.pdf (used with written permission from National Report)

Slideshow: Intro to News Media Literacy

Discussion questions can be projected on the board or handed out to small groups.

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 —  Warm up (10 minutes)

As students arrive, hand out copies of the (fake) news story “Trump to limit all intelligence briefings to 140 characters” (TrumpBriefings_newslit.pdf). Have students look at the article and ask for reactions. Is this a real story or is it fake? How do they know? If students have access to laptops or phones and go to Google this story or site, let them — the internet is the central verification tool for 21st century news consumers.

After a few minutes, of investigation and discussion, have students share why they think it is or is not fake. Then reveal that this is a fake news article and tell students that today’s class will focus on understanding different types of news sources and becoming more news literate consumers.

Step 2 — Lecture and class discussion (40 minutes)

Use the framing slideshow (with instructor notes) to discuss how the media frames the news.

Step 3 — Small group discussion (10 minutes)

Questions for small group discussion

  1. What did you learn from today’s presentation that you didn’t know before? Will this new knowledge affect the way you think about or consume news?
  2. Why do you think so many teenagers are fooled by fake news and images?
  3. Have you ever reposted an article without reading it? What is the danger of relying on headlines or assuming someone else has verified the content before you share it?
  4. Part of being a responsible citizen in a democracy is being informed. What is your media diet? Do you consume credible news sources? Do you read local news (student-run school publications, local news sources)? Why or why not?
  5. Evaluate your own news media literacy. What are you doing right? What else do you need to do to be more news literate?


Students should create a ticket-to-leave with one concept they understand about the news that they didn’t understand before and one question they still have. The teacher will collect these as they leave to plan for follow-up and clarification as needed.


Students could watch this 10 minute 2011 TED talk about “online filter bubbles” by Eli Pariser — he predicted our online experience would become more and more polarized as sites like Facebook and search engines like Google use algorithms to personalize our digital experience. Do you think his predictions have come true? What can we do to get outside our own filter bubbles?

Additional Resources



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Five ways we can help you

Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Lori Keekley
May 1, Loyalty Day. Too-many-days-left-to-count-down-the-end-of-the-school-year day …

No matter what it is, here are five ways JEA’s SPRC can help you (and your students) now.
1. We’re here for you. Whether it’s to study for an upcoming CJE or MJE exam or to help research in a case of censorship, we work to help you and your students.
2. We’re here for your students. If they (or you) find you are in a situation of need, please hit the Panic Button. Someone will answer your request within 24 hours. (It’s usually as soon as we see the email.)
3. Planning for next year? The Foundations Package is a great place to start. This resource helps by providing some starting points for creating a staff manual that includes a media- or board-level policy, ethical guidelines and procedures.
4. It’s never too early to start thinking about Constitution Day. We will release new materials Aug. 20 to help you celebrate this federally mandated event.
5. We will continue to support the First Amendment and its application in schools through our support of New Voices campaigns, First Amendment Press Freedom Award and the passage for board statements.

Please let us know if you need something or think of another way we can help you. We are happy to help

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