Who better to celebrate Free Speech Week than journalism teachers and advisers?

Student media is where young people learn firsthand the true power of free expression. And thanks to their high school media advisers, many students will join the adult world thinking critically, with strength and passion.

October 21, 2015

For a teacher, there is almost nothing more rewarding than watching students emerge from their shells, begin to reason through and understand their thoughts and beliefs, and finally articulate those thoughts. What a sense of freedom, strength and accomplishment for the students, and what a sense of pride for the teachers.

fswWhile free speech is a right Americans have every day thanks to the First Amendment, Free Speech Week is an annual celebration of this core value. This year’s event began Monday, Oct. 19, and will continue through Sunday, Oct. 25.

The Illinois Journalism Education Association, with its membership of publications advisers throughout the state, joins with educators and professional journalists nationwide who recognize that much of the foundation of a society that values free speech comes from those developing years, when young people are challenged and are challenging to the world around them.

This crucial time in the lives of young people can affect the way they think about those freedoms, whether they feel comfortable to practice those freedoms and how they react when those freedoms are challenged. Journalism teachers can make all the difference to that discussion.

The yearbook, newspaper, broadcast or online teacher/adviser is part of an educational process that helps young people think for themselves. Students in these classrooms, especially those supported by administrators who value critical thinking and a vigorous student press, are in charge of editorial decisions, and their teachers help prepare them for that charge.

Teachers show students how to research. They listen to their students’ first arguments. They continue the lesson about the responsibilities that go along with free speech by introducing students to journalism law and ethics.

Then, the students’ free speech manifests itself in yearbook copy, newspaper stories, a broadcast or online post for all the world to see. What an empowering prospect! Bylines and recorded voices showcase their words: They support a politician, they write a poem, they report on community happenings, they review a movie. The options are endless.

The world of free speech begins with young people learning to express themselves. And thanks to their high school media advisers, many join the adult world thinking critically, with strength and passion. They become adults who use their free speech privileges with a sense of purpose, understanding the power of language and the responsibilities that come with that power.

Happy Free Speech Week.

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