Your students have likely heard of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, and they may even be able to name the freedoms it promises. But how often do they consider what those freedoms really mean and to what extent they’re celebrated by people both in and out of the United States?
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. Why not take the opportunity of the holiday to talk with students about one component of the first amendment: freedom of the press?
Every year an organization called Reporters Without Borders puts together a map that ranks the countries of the world in terms of press freedom.
Encourage your students to play around on the map, looking at their own country and considering countries they’ve recently studied. The United States, for example, comes in at 41—after much of Europe as well as Canada, some countries in Africa, and others in Central and Latin America. Challenge your students to brainstorm why that might be and then click on the country to read an explanation.
Ask your students what perspective or bias they think Reporters Without Borders may hold. If the complement to liberty is security, how might someone argue that a country’s restrictive press practices are apt because they promote national security?
Perhaps the big political questions of liberty and security are a little abstract for your students. Invite them to imagine it on a smaller scale: What restrictions would they want on a school newspaper? Should gossip columns be allowed? (You can connect this with laws against libel!) What about articles about drugs or illegal behavior? Where do students believe the lines should be drawn in their world?
Want to take World Press Freedom Day a step further in your classroom? Encourage students to research contemporary journalists such as the National Geographic Explorers listed below in the Teachers’ Toolkit.
Reporters Without Borders: 2016 World Press Freedom Index (Map)
Nat Geo: 1791: Bill of Rights Day
Live Science: What is Freedom of the Press?
Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism: The First Amendment and Student Media
Washington Post: A principal yanked a drug article from a student newspaper
National Geographic Explorer Journalists
Nat Geo: Martin Edstrom
Nat Geo: Caroline Gerdes
Nat Geo: Joshua Howard
Nat Geo: Julia Harte
Nat Geo: Mark Lynas
Nat Geo: Joe Riis
Nat Geo: Shannon Switzer
Nat Geo: Ben Woods
Nat Geo: Dave Yoder