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The importance of student free expression
and widespread information on legislation

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As journalism teachers, we know our students learn more when they make publication choices. Prior review or restraint does not teach students to produce higher quality journalism.

As journalism teachers, we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to give them the responsibility to make those decisions freely.

As journalism teachers we also know democracy depends on student understanding all voices have a right to be heard, knowing they have a voice in their school and community and keeping both informed.

As journalism teachers, we know the only way to teach students to take responsibility for their decisions is to give them the responsibility to make those decisions freely.

“America needs ‘informed communities,’ places where the information ecology meets people’s personal and civic information needs,” reported a 2009 Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, “They need information to participate fully in our system of self-government, to stand up and be heard. Driving this vision are the critical democratic values of openness, inclusion, participation, empowerment, and the common pursuit of truth and the public interest,” the Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age report indicated.

Recent passage of New Voices legislation in Illinois and Maryland and steps to pass similar bills in numerous states point to the importance of student free expression. Attempts also point to a need for students to engage their communities so all know about the importance of such legislation.

Whether advisers and students live in a state where legislation has passed or in a state where legislation is an active project, the accompanying materials can be used to strengthen the understanding of legislation, deepen the resolve for passage or reinforce communities’ understanding and thus support for student free expression.

Whether advisers and students live in a state where legislation has passed or in a state where legislation is an active project, they can use the materials in this package to strengthen the understanding of legislation, deepen the resolve for passage or reinforce communities’ understanding and thus support for student free expression.

Sometimes, despite legislation and all the best intentions, censorship and other limitations of guaranteed rights occurs. The accompanying resources are also designed to help student journalists, their advisers and administrators provide answers about the importance and benefits of student freedom expression.

Resources can help provide additional background on student free expression and approaches to information your communities need to know  about the importance of such freedom, including passage of free expression legislation.

  • Contents of 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?
    • Breakdown of Illinois HB5902: Showing what the bill’s language means.
    • 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.

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One Comment

  1. Right on!

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