Free Student Press delivers a proven model of empowering education through independent high school student journalism. Our concept is simple. Most public schools are extremely resistant to 1) teaching students their First Amendment rights to distribute at school uncensored, independently-produced, student publications and 2) allowing students to exercise those rights. This leaves most American teenagers ignorant of their press rights and unaware of major advocacy groups like the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. Free Student Press not only fills this gap by reaching out to students directly in their own communities, but Free Student Press continues to work with those same students, giving them the support they need in the struggle to make their voices heard. By teaching public high school students their little-known press rights –and by using the issues these publications raise as the basis for facilitating empowering education with students outside the classroom– Free Student Press helps students develop the communication, critical thinking, and grassroots organizing skills necessary to create a more just and democratic society.
Public K-12 schools are how our society teaches each new generation of Americans constitutional rights essential to American democracy. But when it comes to students’ First Amendment press rights, our schools are failing. Most either refuse to teach these vitally important rights or feed students false information. Worse yet, many schools illegally violate students’ First Amendment press rights by banning constitutionally protected publications and punishing the students who create them. The results are bad for American students, worse for American democracy, and awful for the role the U.S. plays in the world.
Just look at the story profiled in our short video above or our feature length documentary. School administrators at one high school in southeast Ohio were so determined to destroy an independent student newspaper that they confiscated copies, lied to students about their constitutional rights and vowed to suspend everyone involved. The principal threatened to effectively revoke the valedictorian’s class standing in an effort to make it more difficult for her to go to college, and he suspended another student for distributing a leaflet that criticized his actions. Meanwhile, the school’s attorney falsely accused the newspaper’s teenage creators of promoting violence and drug use. And it was most likely school officials who directed local police to illegally break up a lawful student meeting at a public park. Watch the videos. It’s all there.
When we educate American children and adolescents for thirteen years in “enclaves of totalitarianism,” we don’t educate them for democratic citizenship. The ultimate result is a country so rife with inequality, exploitation, selfishness, apathy and elite control of politics that — as political scientists from Princeton and Northwestern universities concluded in an important 2014 study — it is a democracy in name only. And with regard to the First Amendment in particular, numerous studies have found a frightening lack of understanding of, and support for, this essential democratic right among Americans.
If we want to change all of this, then we need young Americans to experience an education that empowers them to build a better world. Students need a place to come together on their own terms — a place to pursue their curiosities, identify common concerns and develop self-confidence. Students need to learn how to work together – how to organize a project that advances their collective interests. And finally, students need to learn how to defend and enlarge the spaces for empowerment they’ve created – how to triumph over powerful anti-democratic adversaries. According to the students in our videos, through 1) producing independent publications, 2) opening up a public dialogue with their peers within and around these publications, and 3) defending their publications against censorship, these students experienced an empowering education that had a lasting and transformative impact on their lives. Just listen for yourself!
The students in our videos ultimately won. They kept their paper, and their principal lost his job. But these students had the support of a small group of empowering educators and student press rights advocates called Free Student Press — a group founded by people who experienced and successfully resisted illegal censorship when they themselves were high school students.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of American students aren’t so lucky. No major national organization has empowering educators seeking out students to not only teach them about their press rights and basic journalism law, but also to provide students with the ongoing support they need to prevail. Not the ACLU. Not the SPLC. Not any other progressive education or civil liberties organization of which we’re aware.
This campaign is about changing that. It’s about providing the seed money for the co-founder of Free Student Press to expand this proven model of empowering education to high schools across the country.
Beginning this fall, journalist, organizer, educator, student rights advocate and former independent high school student publisher Damon Krane will launch Free Student Press in several towns in Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. In each town, he’ll recruit and develop local teams of college student activist-volunteers to assist in his work with potential high school student publishers in those areas. As Krane conducts this work from September 2015 through June 2017, he will write a book about it to be published by early 2018. Finally, he’ll use this book to convince national organizations and/or major funders to expand the work of Free Student Press across the country.
If you care about achieving a freer, more just, democratic and ecologically sustainable world, please watch our videos — either the short or full version — and check out some of the other materials linked below. Then please make the most generous donation you can to support this vital work, and help spread the word!
You may have noticed that — in addition to timely updates on this project, free signed copies of the book and your name listed in the acknowledgements section — some rewards for donating to this campaign include custom pencil portraits of people and/or pets from Damon Krane’s artistic business Fine Art Pet Sketches. Click image below to see more of this portraiture.