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editorial page editor: The individual in charge of the editorial page and, at larger newspapers, the op-ed (opposite editorial) page. News Reporting & Writing (Eighth Edition) by the Missouri Group. Copyright 2005. Reproduced by permission of Bedford/St. Martins.

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Lesson Plans




Debating Free Speech, Responsibility and Censorship on Campus

Jason Sperber of the University of California Los Angeles’s Teacher Education Program and LA Youth.

Jason Sperber
University of California Los Angeles and LA Youth
Los Angeles

Title:
Debating Free Speech, Responsibility and Censorship on Campus

A lesson plan to go with: “Pali Paper: Cruel or Cool?"

Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students will weigh the rights of students (and others) to free speech versus the responsibilities that come with those rights.

Objectives:

Students will:

  • Discuss the free speech and press rights of students.
  • Discuss the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech and the press, and how students can make their voices, issues, and complaints heard responsibly and respectfully.
  • Discuss when it is appropriate to use humor to make a point, and how to do so responsibly and legally.
  • Discuss how to combat censorship and silencing on campus and in their communities.
  • Explore different perspectives on student free speech and censorship through role-playing.
Resources/Materials:
  • copies of “Pali Paper: Cruel or Cool?” (one per student)
  • pens/pencils
  • paper
  • newsprint
  • markers
  • classroom chalkboard
Activities/Procedures:
  • Warm-up: In journals or on separate pieces of paper, students respond to the following prompt on the board: “What don’t you like about this school?”
  • As a class, read “Pali Paper: Cruel or Cool?” Then discuss the article, addressing these questions:
    • Why did students publish the OBJ? Why did they include the type of material that they did? Were their methods appropriate for what they were trying to do? Do you think they were right or wrong in doing so, and why? Why did the administration suspend 11 students and expel four others in connection with the OBJ? Do you think the punishments were fair? Why or why not?
    • Some students at Pali believe that the OBJ was the only way they could make their voices heard about issues of concern, like mistreatment by teachers. What are other methods students could have used? How effective do you think these different methods would have been?
    • The Palisades High situation has been characterized by some as a case of “freedom of speech and freedom of the press” versus censorship. Do you agree with this assessment? Or is there more to it? Where and how does the issue of personal responsibility fit into this discussion? Do you think that the right to express oneself brings with it certain responsibilities? If so, what are they?
  • Divide the class into six groups for a role-play debate, with each group assigned one of the following identities: students on the side of the underground newspaper (including its creators and those punished); students against the underground newspaper; teachers; administrators; free-speech advocates; and parents. Distribute newsprint and markers to each group.

    The scenario: Pretend that the Pali situation you’ve just read about has happened, instead, at your school. The paper has been come out, and students have been suspended for their alleged involvement. Now, students on both sides of the issue, teachers, administrators, parents, and free-speech advocates have come together for a town-hall meeting to air their opinions and have a dialogue with the other groups. In each small group, discuss and write on your newsprint the following:

    • Where do we stand on the underground newspaper’s content and methods? Why?
    • Where do we stand on the punishment of involved students? Why?
    • What do we want to say to the other groups at the meeting, as a whole and specifically?
    • What do we want from the other groups at the meeting, as a whole and specifically?

    The teacher will then facilitate the town-hall meeting, with each group presenting its side of the matter. Students in each group will then have the opportunity to respond to and question the other groups. Before the end of class, debrief about the exercise, out-of-character. How did people feel taking those roles and positions? Did they feel heard? Did they get to say what they wanted? Did they find out what they wanted to know from other groups?

  • Wrap-up/homework: Read the reporter’s notebook. In an essay, address the following questions:
    • Reflecting on the role-playing exercise in class, how did it feel to take on the role and position to which you were assigned?
    • Did you agree or disagree with your position?
    • Was it hard to speak on behalf of that position and defend it to others?
    • If you had been able to choose your own role and position, which would it have been, and why?
    • In his reporter’s notebook, Nicholas Williams expresses his mixed emotions over the Palisades High case. After reading about the case, discussing it, and role-playing the situation, what do you really think about it?
    • Are there clear-cut “good guys” and “bad guys”?
    • What are some ways you would choose to try to make your voice heard in a situation like that?
    • What is your position on free speech and responsibility?
Further Questions for Discussion:
  • Define “libel,” “slander,” “parody,” and “satire.” Why would you use parody or satire to make a point? What are the differences between each term? How do you draw the line between a comment that is libelous or slanderous and one that is parodic or satirical?
  • Discuss the actual rules governing speech, press, and assembly at your school and/or in your district. Are these rules fair? What exactly does the First Amendment protect? What are your rights as students and young people, on and off campus? If students’ rights and campus rules are not widely known about, why not?

Evaluation/Assessment:

Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and debate and their individual written work.

Extension Activities:

  • Underground newspapers usually start because students feel that they have no voice to complain about issues at school through official channels. If you were to publish an “underground” newspaper for your school or community, what are the issues you would address? How could you address your issues so that you’re able to make your point but still do so responsibly? Using the topics and guidelines you have just discussed, create an “underground” newspaper.
  • Organize a series of public forums on campus for students to air their concerns to teachers and administrators. What are other ways for the different constituent groups at a school — students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents — to communicate with each other? Devise plans to increase communication between these groups on campus, and try to implement one.


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