1 For All First Amendment Challenge winners encourage students to speak out

Mark Ford teaches 12th-grade humanities and social studies at Casco Bay High School in Portland, Maine. Ford received the 1 For All First Amendment honor after using speeches, court cases and free speech acts to show students how easy and empowering it is to speak out.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently said, ‘Fight for the things you care about, but do it in such a way that people will want to join you,’” Ford said.

After analyzing speeches and free speech acts for their rhetorical effectiveness and constitutionality, Ford’s students wrote their own persuasive pieces to perform in Monument Square.

“Working with the Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS) carpentry program, students built soapboxes to stand on,” Ford said. “The soapboxes were then decorated in ways that enhanced the student’s message or related to free speech and were the physical platforms that provided students a hands-on way to engage with the project and built on the historical tradition of exercising our First Amendment rights in the public marketplace of ideas by stepping up and speaking out.”

Ford said his students began the school year by studying recent Arab uprisings in which the class looked especially at individuals who spoke out against their governments.

“With those heroes in mind, we end the school year examining the rights we have in the United States that we often take for granted and ask ourselves what obligations we have to ensure our democracy remains vibrant and our role as citizens stays active,” he said.

Ford said given the opportunity, any student will rise to the occasion and share their voice with the world.

“I asked my students to take a big risk by speaking out in public, and the award was recognition for the work we did together,” he said.

Shelley Job teaches 10th through 12th grade at Hanover-Horton High School in Horton, Michigan.

In her journalism class, students took an online quiz to test their knowledge of the First Amendment on “We the Students Constitution Day.”  Job said the class analyzed the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

She asked students to answer the following question in an essay: “Since you were born, has America moved closer to or further away from the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence?”

“The essay made them realize we still have a lot in common with a document that was written in 1776,” she said. “We have advanced as a society with technology, but we still need to protect our rights that are the foundation of our country.”

In Job’s film studies and 10th-grade English classes, students also reviewed several movies that involved civil rights, including “The Long Walk Home”, “Ruby Bridges” and “42”. The class discussed each movie and what rights were denied before writing essays on the films.  Job said students learned that even though citizens have founding documents and rights, sometimes they are denied.

“I think when you realize how many people fought and all the different ways people fought to protect our rights, it becomes more relevant to them,” she said. “It isn’t until you lose those rights or are denied rights that you understand how important they are to you.”

Job said she was shocked to hear she had received the honor for her work in the classroom.

“We have to ignite a passion so they will become productive citizens and be proud of our country, and most importantly not to take our freedoms for granted,” she said.

In May, the American Society of News Editors awarded 40 secondary school educators $1,000 each for their innovative efforts while teaching the First Amendment in classrooms across the country. For more information on the challenge or a complete list of winners, check out a previous article from SchoolJournalism.org.

The 1 for All First Amendment Challenge was funded by a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. 1 for All is a national nonpartisan program designed to build understanding and support for the First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. 1 for All provides teaching materials and lesson plans at 1forall.us to help everyone learn more about their First Amendment rights.


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