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The Bill of Rights Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a student who argued that points could not be deducted from his inaccurate research paper because, “I have the right to free speech.”  That fairy tale did not end happily ever after.  Students today are eager to demand their rights and express their opinions.  Many have difficulty understanding that everyone has equal freedoms, even those with opposing view points.  Their questions are telling:


  • Why can’t they publish 3D printing plans for weapons?
  • Someone took the oath of office on a Koran, is that legal? 
  • The press is biased, why should it be free?


It would be easy to dismiss these questions.   Rarely do students think through the issues or their impacts on all Americans.  Each question stems from minimal understanding and memorization of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.   They memorized the amendments using songs or quirky abbreviations that lack intent or detail.   Students today need to practice applying concepts to real world situations.   


Creating assignments that incorporate historical background allows for analysis and including current events is a challenge.  As instructors we strive to create the perfect class -  the one where we lecture brilliantly and then engage our students in a lively discussion where everyone participates.  Creating that lecture on a daily basis takes time and resources.  The Bill of Rights is a complicated topic with no concrete right or wrong answers.  The true challenge is to create a historical perspective lecture, sprinkled with the changes that have occurred over time that stimulates that lively discussion. 


The National Archives and other organizations have created wonderful websites to provide faculty with a vast number of free resources.  These include:


Congress Creates the Bill of Rights:  a webpage with videos and links to four free eBooks, Get the Background, Go Inside the First Congress, Amendments in Process and Join the Debate.  Each of these provides primary sources, critical thinking questions and assignments that can be tailored to meet any academic level.


Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test is a free workbook provided by the National Archives.  The workbook explores a key freedom guaranteed in the document along with primary sources.  Students are provided with thought provoking reading questions and discussion questions.  The primary sources are long enough to facilitate discussions or be short assignments.  The book is designed to  promote critical thinking without providing clear cut answers for students.


Teaching American History is a website that provides viewers with an interactive entitled The Origin and Politics of the Bill of Rights.  The interactive allows searches based on primary sources and even provides a downloaded spreadsheet for analysis.


We all want to teach that perfect course, it’s our fairy tale.  Join our conversation and tell us your favorite student question and how you teach the Bill of Rights.




I don't teach the Bill of Rights in computing, but maybe i need to start!  Found this online..:)

The Computer User’s Bill of Rights

  1. The user is always right. If there is a problem with the use of the system, the system is the problem, not the user.
  2. The user has the right to easily install software and hardware systems.
  3. The user has the right to a system that performs exactly as promised.
  4. The user has the right to easy-to-use instructions for understanding and utilizing a system to achieve desired goals.
  5. The user has the right to be in control of the system and to be able to get the system to respond to a request for attention.
  6. The user has the right to a system that provides clear, understandable, and accurate information regarding the task it is performing and the progress toward completion.
  7. The user has the right to be clearly informed about all system requirements for successfully using software or hardware.
  8. The user has the right to know the limits of the system’s capabilities.
  9. The user has the right to communicate with the technology provider and receive a thoughtful and helpful response when raising concerns.
  10. The user should be the master of software and hardware technology, not vice-versa. Products should be natural and intuitive to use.

Or Internet User's Bill of Rights:

The key principles include:

  • Accessibility.
  • Affordability.
  • Privacy.
  • Freedom of expression.
  • Diverse, decentralized and open platform.
  • Net neutrality for users and content alike.

Seems like there is choice or free will in participation that must be taken into account on both parties. Yet unless the government made the reading a part of the televised event then the astronauts all had a choice in the matter. I feel it is similar to pledging allegiance to the flag or even what one chooses to post on social media.  Because perception is often not reality this will remain an argument even though the simple solution is to not participate.

Frequent Commenter

Not sure how to incorporate this into a chemistry class - but definitely thought provoking!


The right to choose comes up when we talk about Anti trust laws that ensures the right to free competition.

In Statistics I don't directly talk about the Bill of Rights or free speech, but I do use data that is "ripped from the headlines". Some recent examples of data used in class are attitudes of American voters on (1) legalizing marijuana, (2) legalizing gay marriage, (3) feelings toward police. Could easily pull in data on free speech, what percentage of countries have laws allowing it (or not), American attitudes about what free speech should include, etc. Could even survey the class on specific examples to get data to teach with.

I don’t think I can incorporate this specific in my chemistry class. However, I think there should be more resources of where information originated. Sometimes there are typos in textbooks or misrepresentation of information online but it is hard to verify it.

@hante_judy  Those are interesting topics. Where do you go to get data on them?


Sometimes you are able to go back to the literature but many sources are very old and not accessed easily. The easiest way is to be able to talk someone who is an expert in that area which helps. Otherwise the misreprentation of information just keeps get recycled without anyone realizing it. 

@michael_britt Gallup and Pew Research do regular surveys on American attitudes and also world attitudes toward such a variety of issues. Here are a few interesting examples: and

Great links @hante_judy I bookmarked them. You know what I found that was interesting? The way that this info was displayed using an animated gif. A neat way to present the data showing that the US is generally more open to free speech, or as they say, “In principle, most people around the world, and especially in the United States, support freedom of expression. But there is a fine line between general support for freedom of speech and support for specific forms of expression."




This is a cool way to display info. Really got me thinking about how to use this approach with other data. Thanks for sharing this.

Frequent Commenter

Very thought provoking! 


1 Corinthians 8:13

Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend I will eat no flesh

In other words, if your actions are getting people distracted from what's good (or think something wrong) then maybe it's better to just not do it.  So if quoting from the Bible makes people feel like you're pushing your religion on them maybe you can ease up there.  Just don't quote from scripture when you're an astronaut.


Of course 

Romans 1:16

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ

Which means you use any excuse you have to quote Bible verses in the discussion board.