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Free Speech: Why It Matters

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Liberty Nation GenZ  believes in educating young Americans about the U.S. and its Constitution. This middle school lesson plan can be used in the classroom or the home, and adapted to a range of student abilities.

Objectives:

  • Students will discuss/debate the topic of free speech using a range of arguments.
  • Students will relate the topic of free speech to current affairs.
  • Students will develop claims and counterclaims fairly, while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claims.
  • Students will use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.

Materials:

VIDEO: Why Free Speech Matters provides three reasons this right benefits Americans.

HANDOUT: Information debate sheet describing three arguments for free speech, and three common arguments against it.

HANDOUT: Comprehension quiz

HANDOUT: Discussion handout

ARTICLE: Choose from two case studies that discuss a recent free speech controversy.

  1. The NBA Gives in to China’s Pressure
  2. Free Speech in College: How Free Should It Be?

HANDOUT: A cloze exercise to match your chosen case study:

  1. NBA and Chinese Pressure cloze exercise
  2. Free Speech in College cloze exercise

Procedure:

Step 1

Choose a topic currently popular in the news or students’ surroundings – tell them that they are not allowed to talk about it anymore, unless what they say matches a certain viewpoint chosen by the teacher. This could be serious, or a silly example like “pistachio is officially the best ice-cream flavor and anybody who says otherwise will be punished.” Gauge student reactions and give them a chance to object – you could perform a vote on whether they agree with the “official” position. Give joke punishments to those who dissent from the “official” opinion, eg. 10 push-ups, a lap around the classroom, stand one one leg for 20 seconds, sit with a book on their heads, confiscate their pencil case for the rest of the lesson, etc.

Step 2

Broaden the discussion to free speech in general – ask students how they would react if they were no longer allowed to express their opinions on political topics.

Step 3

Ask students where the right to free speech comes from. Elicit any background information they may have.

Step 4

Display video Why Free Speech Matters

Suggested places to stop the video and ask questions:

  • 1:00 – Where is the right to freedom of speech guaranteed?
  • 1:00 – What does the First Amendment restrict?
  • 1:25 – What form of government does the U.S. have?
  • 1:42 – Discuss Nadine Strossen quote
  • 2:17 – Discuss Lindsay Shepard quote
  • 2:50 – What forms of speech/methods of communication does the First Amendment protect?
  • 3:59 – What regimes hold their power by limiting speech?
  • 4:47 – Why was freedom of speech listed first in the Bill of Rights?
  • 4:56 – Discuss George Washington quote

Step 5

Students read the free speech information debate sheet.

Step 6

Students complete comprehension quiz.

Step 7

Students complete discussion handout individually or in groups.

Step 8

Have students complete one case study cloze exercise – choose between The NBA Gives in to China’s Pressure  (cloze exercise) and Free Speech in College: How Free Should It Be? (cloze exercise).

Alternatively, use another recent news article as a case study.

Step 9

Have students write a 100 word summary of the chosen article, including the key points.

Step 10

Hold a discussion about the case study. This can also be completed in small groups.

Questions may include…

The NBA Gives in to China’s Pressure

  1. Do you think Daryl Morey should have said what he did?
  2. What should the NBA have done?
  3. Are business interests more important than free expression?
  4. What do you think of the Hong Kong protests?
  5. What do you know about life in China?

Free Speech in College: How Free Should It Be?

  1. If you had to write a set of principles for schools to obey on speech, what would they be?
  2. Should schools and colleges have rules limiting speech? Why/why not?
  3. Who was right – Dr. Maroja or the protesters?
  4. Are safe spaces a good idea? Do you have any at school, or should you? What would you expect to experience in a safe space?
  5. Does offensive speech affect you? If so, how?

Extension 1

Students may further research their case studies by finding news stories on the Hong Kong protests, the Chinese government, the Chicago Principles, or speech protests on college campuses.

Extension 2

Students read the article First Amendment: Protecting the Right to Disagree.

Extension 3

Have student research and present a legal exception to free speech. This may include…

  • Incitement
  • Fighting Words
  • Obscenity
  • Defamation
  • Commercial Speech
  • Other compelling interests: Judges’ gag orders, certain government interests, jurors discussing cases, etc.

Extension 4

The First Amendment only protects free speech in the U.S. – some other countries prosecute citizens for speech deemed unacceptable. Hate speech is increasingly being prosecuted in Canada, the U.K. and Europe. Have students find a recent news article on free speech infringements from a country outside the U.S. and discuss it from an American perspective. Students may prepare a written analysis or verbal presentation.

Download a PDF on this lesson plan and handouts.

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