Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Free Speech in Schools Conference

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Tribune Foundation, in partnership with J-Ideas of Ball State University, held a summit on free speech in schools the past three days in Chicago. Attendees discussed the challenges and opportunities concerning the First Amendment facing students, teachers, and administrators alike in the Information Age. Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, web logs, student-led school publications, controversial t-shirts and internet filters were the media of focus.

The proceedings began with a benediction of sorts from First Amendment godfather John Seigenthaler Wednesday evening. Thursday was a busy day packed with six panel discussions and a demonstration specific to internet filtering. The day began with remarks from Mary Beth Tinker, the student who wore a black armband to her Des Moines middle school in 1965 and in the process changed the face of First Amendment law. Panelists like Mark Goodman of the Student Press Law Center, Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and constitutional scholar Linda Monk addressed the unique legal challenges to student speech in the digital age, connecting modern cases to the Tinker standard. An evening event at the Freedom Museum featured a performation from the Young Chicago Authors and a First Amendment film produced by Alex Caponga titled "Live Free."

Friday's conclusion focused on the practical development and implementation of First Amendment-friendly policies in our public schools, and means of disseminating the conference report and practical guide for school leaders. Participants acknowledged the dillemas teachers and adminstrators face as they seek to maintain a safe learning environment while respecting students' rights. Media literacy is of utmost concern, along with an appreciation for the First Amendment by all parties as the world changes ever rapidly around us. Watch here for future developments emerging as a result of these deliberations.


Blogger Nathan said...

I think one of the most compelling themes that emerged from the Free Speech in School conference was the plea from First Amendment advocates to citizens and legislators to not be hasty with limiting the use of social networking and blog sites until the medium has had a chance to mature. Requiring the use of filters and outright banning particular websites only stifles creativity and free expression and forces users underground. It was made manifest in several of the conference sessions that most if not all of the filters that public libraries and schools are required to use by federal law are frought with flaws and inconsistencies. Webpages that might have truly "objectionable" material can still make their way through, while benign and genuinely informational sites are blocked (for example, students researching the Continental Congress would be blocked from websites that identified its president "John Hancock" by name).

While the threats of internet predators and unsavory material is certainly real, hasty regulation of the internet will only hamper the development of potentially amazing new ways of communication. When he invented the phonograph, Thomas Edison never once imagined that his device would spur an entire recording industry. Imagine what things mightn't have been or taken much longer to develop had regulations and bans been placed on an infant recording industry. In this instance, as it is with any situation where safety is concerned, is to inform and educate the individuals so that they may make wise choices for themselves.

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at