One of the best parts of my job is when I get to talk to young people about civil liberties. It’s been a while since I’ve been in high school, but I seem to remember that anyone (I mean ANYONE) who would actually listen to my questions about my right to personal expression, religious freedom, the civil rights movement and more would be pretty cool. Little did I know that getting the chance to answer those questions would be even better.
Take the media history class at LaFollette High School. This Madison area classroom has spent the whole semester talking about the media: its role in American democracy, structures from the underground to the corporately consolidated, and how media impacts our lives and our political system. These students welcomed ACLU staffers to talk more about the First Amendment, the past 20 years of Supreme Court decisions that impact student expression rights, and what free speech means to them.
For their final project, the students are taking to the airwaves to bring what they learned about the media to the public. Wanting to pick a topic that was relevant to them, the students explored the issue of the appropriateness of the legal drinking age of 21. This led into a broader discussion of what it means to be an adult, what the law says, and how our society views the rights of young people.
The first installment of their project aired on the Madison community radio station, WORT 89.9 FM on Monday, June 1. You can find the show through the station’s archives – just scroll down to find the “Access Hour” on June 1st. The students got some experience on the microphone both live in the studio and through their interviews of their principal, the city mayor, insurance company reps, child development specialists and others who work with youth. They took phone calls and questions about youth rights and other young people got a chance to speak out about the discrimination they feel as they jump from one legal benchmark of becoming an adult to another.
The next time the students will be live on the air will be this Sunday, June 7 at noon on WTDY Talk Radio 1670 AM. You can go to their website to listen on-line too. Tune in and hear students exercise their freedom of speech as they talk about their rights. They will be taking questions on Sunday as well, so let them know that you are listening and support their project.
It was great to talk to them about the importance of free speech. It’s something that the ACLU is really famous for defending and being able to educate young people about the First Amendment is as fun as it is important. They all got copies of our Freedom FAQs (found on our ACLU of Wisconsin youth page) and more information on how they can get involved as student civil libertarians by finding us on Facebook.
For more information on the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s youth rights education program, contact Emilio in Milwaukee or Stacy in Madison.
- Stacy Harbaugh, ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Community Advocate