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Just This Once: FSW lesson 2

Posted by on Oct 17, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



The American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee released “The Speaker … A Film About Freedom” in 1977. The film, in its original form, comes with a discussion guide. Today, the website for it has the discussion guide and links to coverage about the film and other pertinent articles. Controversial in 1977, the film today hits at many current issues surrounding free speech. Note the date, 1977. Clothing and style reflect that timeframe. It might take students a while to get beyond that and into the First Amendment issues.


“Just this once”


Based on a 1977 film by the American Library Association, The Speaker, on whether a school and its community should allow a speaker to talk on controversial issues. The key question is, essentially, “What is the harm in just this once in preventing a person from speaking an idea.”


  • Students will analyze the questions raised in the film.
  • Students will discuss the issues raised in the film.
  • Students will develop a position based on what they find.
  • Students will formulate possible alternative solutions to the film’s outcome.

Common Core State Standards

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.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).


120 minutes

Materials / resources

Internet access for the film’s background:

The Speaker:

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — introduction (10 minutes)Foundations_main

The teacher should present background to the film from the ALA site and raise the essential question for the activity: “What is the harm in just this once in preventing a person from speaking an idea.” Stress should be placed on the concept of free expression, especially in context with Free Speech Week. The teacher might also have to discuss the difference in clothing and fashion.

Step 2 — Show the film (43 minutes)

Option 1: Show the film in its entirety without stopping for explanation. Students would have to take notes and jot down questions they have.

Option 2: Stop the film at student questions or at teacher-chosen key points for discussion/explanation. This, of course would lengthen the presentation time into Day 2.

Step 3:— Processing the film’s information (7 minutes) (Homework assignment)

Ask students to examine their notes and list key points made for and against the speaker, and to be ready to discuss  the issues and to plan for alternatives.

Step 4 — Day 2 Discussion (25 minutes)

Students will discuss the issues of the film, working toward a conclusion of whether the speaker should speak.

Option 1: Small group discussion with each group reaching a decision which would  have to be resolved in class.

Option 2: Large group discussion with possible resolutions posted on whiteboard for decisions.

Step 5 — Alternatives and solutions (25 minutes)

With their possible solutions of the whiteboard, have students work in small groups to examine alternatives. Is it an either-or dilemma? Are alternatives possible and would they help accommodate all positions? What types of ethical problem solving is possible?  Have the small groups work toward explaining their decision in terms of ethics.

Step 6 — Final discussion (10 minutes)

What surprised you the most? What was the best alternative or solution? How as a journalist should you apply the issues involved?

Assign each student to prepare a 50 word or less statement in the form of a poster of why his or her decision of “just this once” is the ethical stance to take. Statement due the next class.

Step 7 — Assessment

Credit given to student responses in the 50-word statement. Post them in the classroom for continued discussion and possible use in class/staff ethical guidelines.


The  teacher might have students watch the video at home and take notes there, shortening the lessons by one day.


The class could spend an additional day making the issues current by replacing the speaker with a politician/issues from the 2016 presidential election.

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Just this once

Posted by on Mar 1, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


In the 1970s, the American Library Association released a film for use in schools called The Speaker. The film dealt with multi-level decision making concerning free speech.

One line sticks in my mind: Just this once.

As in “what’s wrong if just this once we stop someone from speaking.”

Over the years, this translated into the realm of prior review: so what if just this once the principal prior reviews student media. Who is harmed? What is lost? How will it hurt? Who will care?

And, after all this time, journalism advisers and teachers do not have an common answer for the issues surrounding prior review.

For some, prior review gets teachers off the hook. It is a safety cushion where someone else takes the responsibility for decisions made.

For some, tolerating it or embracing it means a job. In this economy one almost cannot blame them.

For some, prior review means following commercial media when the publisher sometimes can say yay or nay to content.

For these and other reasons the scholastic journalism community has, for far too long, been unwilling to really confront this elephant in the room of journalistic learning.

Now, though, we are seeing more and more fruits of allowing just this once as it applies to prior review:

• Solid programs with solid advisers are falling to the spread of prior review. The latest is in Minnesota.
• Prior restraint, not a safer school or real educational growth, is the product of prior review.
• Administrators are starting to ask for proof that schools exist without prior review. Why?  Because they just don’t believe schools exist with review since that is what administrative consulting groups and school lawyers tell them. The latest instance of this comes from Colorado.
• Several administrative consulting groups across the nation, even though they don’t say they do, endorse in open or subtle ways administrative control of student media. Prior review. For self-protection. Because it is the safe thing to do.

Because the spread of prior review by those outside the staffs of student media is so extensive, so pervasive, we as journalism educators must do more than condemn this issue. We must raise challenges that ask:

• What are workable alternatives to prior review? And then create and distribute them.
• How do we show the practice has no educational value and in fact harms student educational growth? And model our beliefs.
• How do we show that truthful, accurate and complete reporting by student media cannot take place in an atmosphere of prior review? And showcase the solid programs where such reporting thrives.
• Does the risk of just this once dropping prior review outweigh administrative fears of students running amuck? And publicize the excellence of students, who without prior review consistently show their learning works.

Our goals should thus include:

• Clear demonstration, through the use of nationwide examples, that free and responsible student media means student decision making without prior review. Not responsible to mother school but to the idea of truth and serving the school’s various publics.
• Clear documentation that schools do prosper without prior review and that their numbers are substantial. We need to let each other know when our programs are public forums by policy or practice, and we need to do so proudly so those numbers make on impact on those who claim otherwise.
• Clear modeling to administrators that their best way to monitor student media is to hire qualified and caring advisers and teachers who empower students to grow by practicing what they are taught.

It is time to actively implement our beliefs, to remind those who support prior review they are wrong.

Just this once – before it is too late.

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