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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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Introduction to 2016 Constitution Day materials … and more

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Constitution Day lessons, activities and related materials


In preparation for Constitution Day 2016, several members of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee (SPRC), a committee of the Journalism Education Association, created lesson plans specific for the event.

We suggest celebrating Sept. 16 since the official Constitution Day is Saturday this year.

We created these lessons to help celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as mandated by Congress. Legislation requires schools to offer lessons on the Constitution and how it affects all Americans. Our lesson plans emphasize the First Amendment and particularly the freedoms of speech and the press.

Keep reading. There are more special offers at the end of the CD Day materials.

Please contact me  if you have any questions or feedback about the lessons or how to implement them.

The SPRC works to provide information and resources on legal and ethical issues to journalism students, teachers and administrators. SPRC members also work to promote the First Amendment rights of students across the nation.


Students will examine the gray area between political correctness and free speech through peer discussion and real-world examples. Students will explore several topics in small groups followed by a large-group discussion. By Matt Smith

Since media organizations have moved to online formats, they have struggled with the practice of hosting online comments next to their content. Many news organizations require posters to meet specific standards, moderate the comments, and reserve the right to remove or delete comments and users. Some organizations even require each post be approved by a human before it can be live on their sites. More recently, NPR is the latest news organization to completely remove comments from its news sites. Students will explore the question whether the ability to comment on news stories creates a more or less informed culture. By Jeff Kocur

Students will design ethical guidelines they can use this fall and in later coverage (reporting and viewpoint) of elections, candidates and issues. They will examine the comprehensiveness election reporting and how students can go about building robust election coverage. The lesson also examines how students can apply ethical principles to this coverage. By John Bowen

Sometimes politicians misconstrue facts during debates and political ads. This lesson examines the “truthiness” of the ads running currently. Students will analyze one from the Democratic and one from the Republican party. Students could look at a TV ad, online ad or print ad. By Lori Keekley

To see past years’ lessons, go here. Also has links to previous years.

Please send any feedback to I’d love to hear from you!

Lori Keekley

For JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee and the Constitution Day Committee

Constitution Day Committee

John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)

Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School (MN)

Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)

Matt Smith, Fond du Lac (WI)

And we’re not done yet.

Additionally, we are reintroducing the Making a Difference Campaign.

This campaign will highlight at least one piece of student work each month to help illustrate how students can make a difference through their coverage.

The first Making a Difference in 1988 showed how students reported the impact of the Hazelwood decision.

The first Making a Difference in 1988 showed how students reported the impact of the Hazelwood decision.

These are examples of student media that had an impact on the community or school where they were produced. They can be print, digital, video or audio.

On Constitution Day, we’ll release the link to the submission form and explain the process.

SPRC members will select student work that made a difference, post it on and promote it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Let others see the work you have created. When you have something to contribute, please send it to us!

Wait, Wait. There’s more…

• Because two states, Illinois and Maryland, passed legislation over the summer and others are poised to do the same, the SPRC created a packet for helping communities of all kinds understand the importance of that legislation. The Student Free Expression Package will be released later in the week, but some of  its main points are outlined below:

Contents for this package:

  • Importance of state legislation: Although many educators and advocates think of the First Amendment (and the court decisions interpreting it) as the most important tool for interpreting student press rights, there is another equally important source of law: state statutes.
  • Why protecting student free expression is important: Students and advisers in states with recent freedom of expression legislation may want to inform their communities of educational rationale for the legislation. Additionally, those states working to pass such legislation might want to use the same points to gain support
  • Talking Points: With legislation giving students decision-making power over their student media comes questions about roles, purpose and standards. If the school cannot make content decisions who is responsible? What is the role of the adviser? Of students? If the adviser cannot control content, what guidelines will students follow and why?
  • Tips for engaging communities: With new legislation, or attempts to pass it, comes the need for ways to engage those who would support it. The ways can run from concept to concrete and can be delivered in many approaches with details determined locally.
  • Legislation terminology: A compilation of important terminology so everyone can better understand the language and issues surrounding student free expression language.
  • What to do if school officials threaten censorship: Even though state legislation can provide protection, sometimes others do not understand that and need further education. Use a friendly and informative approach and help them understand. Here are some steps we recommend.
  • Sample press release on state legislation: Another option for letting your various communities know about the benefits of free expression legislation is to create a press release to media, civic groups, school board and others.
  • Resources on state legislation: Links to additional information and contacts

And, as a special bonus…

• An important part of JEA’s supports for free expression rights for student journalists is the First Amendment Press Freedom Award.

In its 17th year, the award recognizes high schools that actively support, teach and protect First Amendment rights and responsibilities of students and teachers. FAPFA-2012The recognition focuses on student-run media where students make all final decisions of content without prior review.

The award comes in two steps, with Round 1 due before Dec. 1. The entry form and entry information can be obtained here.






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Our right to comment

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Our right to comment

Since media organizations have moved to online formats, they have struggled with the practice of hosting online comments next to their content. Many news organizations require posters to meet specific standards, moderate the comments, and reserve the right to remove or delete comments and users. Some organizations even require each post be approved by a human before it can be live on their sites. More recently, NPR is the latest news organization to completely remove comments from their news sites. Has the ability to comment on news stories created a more or less informed culture?


  • Students will explore the best ways to interact with news media
  • Students will define the roles of a media outlet

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


60 minutes

Materials / resources

NPR story about taking comments away


Lesson step-by-step

  1. Have the students read the article linked above
  2. Break the students into groups of four and choose a current event. Have each group read the comments section of a different media outlet you assign them for the current event you have chosen.
  3. Have the students complete the worksheet.
  4. As a whole class, discuss the findings.
  5. As an editorial board, come up with guidelines for your own media. You can find model guidelines here.

During this activity, Editors who already have had discussions about comments could be exploring the policies that various student media have.

One group of students could also be using the time to look at ways that social media fills the role of the comments section for some media outlets.


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