Introduction by Katy Landless
When given an open-ended question and the freedom to express their opinion, young people can say the most amazing things. Senior Government students were given a test on the First Amendment after spending three weeks on the topic. Some of their test answers are reprinted here for your pleasure, but before reading their answers, it may help to understand how the unit was structured. The unit contained a series of cases, which restricted the First Amendment, for example: dress codes, CD warning labels, book banning and flag burning. The students were given the opportunity to discuss the cases, assuming such roles as parent, student and community member. They also worked in groups to analyze why we have restrictions and they wrote paragraphs after each case. The paragraphs expressed and defended whether they were for absolute freedoms or whether certain restrictions are necessary to protect certain people. At the end of the unit, they were also given the opportunity to watch a video on Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party and the Attica Prison revolt so they could witness what happens to some people who speak out. The following paragraphs were written in response to one or more of the following three test questions:
1. What have you learned about the First Amendment in the last three weeks?
2. What did you know about the First Amendment before this class that you now have a better understanding of?
3. What else have you learned in this class in the last three weeks?
By Theresa Ellis, St. Clair Shores, MI
I have learned a few new things about the First Amendment. Most of what I have learned is about freedom of speech. I did not know that what you wear is considered freedom of speech. Dress codes are a restriction on this freedom. I have also learned that the school board that chooses the dress code may not be right. I think students should question their authority more often instead of just complaining about it. Another thing I learned was that schools could still ban books. I think this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Schools do not push reading enough. If a student wants to read something, I think it would help the student more than it would hurt him.
I knew a lot about the First Amendment before I had Government because I had Business Law last semester and a whole chapter in our book was devoted to the Bill of Rights. Some things I learned more about were the things dealing with freedom of religion. In our class discussions about religion, I was surprised to hear how upset people were getting over the idea of people not standing for The National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance.
I never realized so many people my age cared so much and were so patriotic that they cannot see that other people's beliefs might not be the same as theirs. I think Americans who have a problem with people not standing up for The National Anthem or Pledge due to religious reasons should imagine how they would feel if they were forced to listen to someone else's pledge from another country.
The most interesting thing I learned over the past three weeks was from
the video we watched about the Black Panthers. I was shocked to see how
horribly they were treated when they were doing nothing wrong. All the
times I was taught about the Black Panthers, I was given the idea that
they caused trouble and they were bad. The video portrayed them in a better
light and I think I now have a better understanding of what they were about.
They just wanted a better life for black people. They wanted to establish
some respect. I really enjoyed the video and hope we watch more like it.
By Keegan Filipiak, St. Clair Shores, MI
Collaborating parents and Senators contrive ways to alter our freedom of speech because they feel they know what is best for America's youth while we (minors) sit in their flowerpots, blinded by millions of suns (too many leaders) and their constructed falsehoods. Freedom of speech does not limit the artist from generating music; it limits "underage" consumers from purchasing the albums. If I do not yet have a voice in government, then how can they restrict me? If the people in Washington may decide what I can and cannot listen to, what category of First Amendment rights does that fall under? This selective method in determining who listens to what is ridiculous. I am allowed to listen to "Band X" so long as the government assesses them to be suitable. What is that? Freedom of speech, I guess...
The First Amendment was a good idea until the politicians and lawmakers in office decided to do what they do to everything -twist and distort it until it fits their needs. Then this delicate thing known as freedom of speech becomes the inverse: freedom of speech according to the minority. The minority being Congress. The ideas that our country was founded on are counterfeit and artificial -popular sovereignty and limited government. I thought the people were supposed to manipulate and manage laws until they were for the people, but unfortunately, this is not the case. The government dictates supreme and the people suffer. This makes me sick. I assumed that the Constitution was to limit and prevent this activity. I think not.
The one thing that really inspired and influenced me throughout this
class was the whole freedom of speech thing. It cast a die in my head that
the First Amendment is currently a myth, but there is something
I can do about it. I can have a voice in government if I choose to employ
that right and put strength back into the great amendment.