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Perspectives on Freedom of Speech

Bill Kahn, a social studies teacher at a Brooklyn high school, teaches a two day government lesson on the issue of freedom of speech


This website documents how one teacher uses a controversial topic to help students develop their analytical skills, adopt different points of view, and deepen their understanding of key social studies content including:

  • U.S. Constitution and Government (Day 1, 13:04)
  • Bill of Rights and the First Amendment (Day 1, 18:53)
  • Individual and Minority Rights (Day 1, 16:04; 19:08)
  • Freedom of Speech Including Understanding: The Nature of Speech, The Right to Speak, and The Right to be Heard (Day 1, 25:33; Day 2, 17:15)
  • Clear and Present Danger (Day 1, 32:45; Day 2, 9:40; 12:40)

By exploring the classroom videos, teacher and student interviews and other materials, viewers can consider how Kahn links abstract ideas to real life situations and connects content to students’ personal lives. Kahn also intersperses lecturing, questioning, and student discussion and uses a moot court to gradually take on more responsibility for analyzing legal cases.  In interviews after each class and at the end of the year, Kahn shares his concerns about assessing student understanding and reveals how he constantly revises his plans for the unit over the course of the day as he teaches four different classes: 

  • “The lesson has undergone an evolution, about 4 changes, 2 of them last night, one of them in 4th, one in 5th (period)” (Interview #2, 00:20)
  • “This morning, during 4th, for the first time, I’ve been teaching Schenk for years now, it suddenly dawned on me that there are two Schenk cases…” (Interview #2, 00:50)
  • “What I foolishly thought would be 10 minutes, took half the period…” The hypothetical example was “so loaded in one direction, that I said “that was a misfire… and I did it again…” (Interview #2, 17:55)
  • “The hypothetical changed every single period”  (Interview #2, 19:30)
  • “I figured aha, the chart will speed things along… and I was wrong….” (Interview #2, 20:30
  • “I can’t tell you how many times I think I’ve cracked this lesson.”  (Interview #2, 57:15)

In the process, viewers can explore how a veteran teacher constantly reworks his plans for his class (before, during, and after, class) based on the reactions of the students, his goals, the time constraints, and his evolving understanding of the material.