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Vineland teacher builds First Amendment lesson plan around Pentagon Papers

Feb. 26, 2001

By Maricarmen Rivera
The Press of Atlantic City, N.J.

VINELAND — Jeanne Doremus has developed a way to keep First Amendment lessons current in high school classrooms.
Doremus, supervisor of instruction for art and social studies for the district, developed a lesson plan that includes the Pentagon Papers case as a foundation to discuss the Vietnam War and freedom of the press.

Her plan is being featured in the Web site www.highschooljournalism.org that focuses on the education of journalism in high schools.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors, or ASNE, sponsors the site.

The lesson plan was prepared in 1998, after Doremus participated at a Harvard University seminar.

“The seminar was titled ‘The Media and the American Democracy,’ and we were required after a week of intense study to develop a lesson plan that could be used in high school,” Doremus said.

Two years later, Doremus received a call from ASNE telling her the plan would be used on the Web site.

The lesson plan includes the Pentagon Papers case, as well as movies such as "Saving Private Ryan" to get the point across to high school students.

As it is designed, students would receive details of the case and would have to discuss the constitutional issues involved in it.
Doremus said she gave the lesson plan to several teachers in the district so it can be included as part of social studies or history classes.

“We have units that deal with freedom of the press, so this could be an activity of the course,” Doremus said. “The study of the Constitution encompasses the First Amendment, and when you can incorporate history such as the Vietnam War, well, that’s just icing on the cake.”

New York Times vs. the United States — the Pentagon Papers case — was decided in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. In it, the court allowed the newspaper to publish information regarding military involvement in Vietnam. The Department of Justice tried to restrain publication of the information that was leaked to the newspaper by a government official. The court’s decision to lift the restraining order is considered one of the most important decisions in favor of the press and the First Amendment.
Part of the lesson plan includes questioning the students on the definition of prior restraint and why is it dangerous to Democracy.

Communications coordinator for the district and former newspaper editor F. John Sbrana said teaching journalism to high school students opens the discussion of different ideas.

“We need to educate our students about not only the role, but the critical responsibility of all media in a nation that sacrificed so much to ensure its continued existence,” Sbrana said.

The district includes the First Amendment in civics classes for eighth-graders. Also, Sbrana said, it is part of U.S. history classes in 11th and 12th grades.

Story © 2001 The Press of Atlantic City. Reprinted with permission.