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$8,870 pledged of $25,000 goal
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By Damon Krane
$8,870 pledged of $25,000 goal
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About this project

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. 

And this isn't an isolated incident. 

It's been 46 years since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District concluded that authoritarian schools are not compatible with American democracy. "In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism," the court declared. Yet as documented during the past five decades by acclaimed journalist Jack Nelson and the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism, the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, both misinformation about student press rights and illegal censorship have continued to run rampant in our schools. If you’re like most Americans reading this, you made it through at least a dozen years of schooling and into adulthood without ever learning of students' rights to distribute uncensored, independently produced student publications at school. (To learn more now, view this informational pamphlet for high school students or this report on student handbook policies from one of our past studies.) 

Photo by Ed Venrick, Athens News
Photo by Ed Venrick, Athens News
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!

Photo by Patrick White, Athens News
Photo by Patrick White, Athens News
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.

The Plan

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!

Feature Length Documentary

Photo by Ed Venrick, Athens News
Photo by Ed Venrick, Athens News

FAQ

Project Budget

Further Reading

...and a little more info about rewards:

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.

Risks and challenges

Free Student Press is not an untested idea. With Damon Krane's leadership, from 1999 through 2005 FSP established a successful track record of working with high school student publishers in southeast Ohio. The group inspired and facilitated empowering education, and it helped students defeat illegal censorship.

When it comes to the challenges of recruiting college student volunteers, reaching out to high school students, teaching young journalists and educators, carrying out public advocacy, conducting media relations and grassroots organizing, and writing about all of this work, Krane already has the experience. (See Krane’s bio above.) While this work is always new and exciting -- never totally predictable and boring!-- it's what Krane does, and he knows how to do it well.

The main challenge facing this work is to marshal the resources necessary to bring this proven model to schools across the country. To do this, Krane needs the financial support of many people to provide seed money to cover at least 70% of first year project expenses. (That’s the $25,000 goal of this campaign.) From there he'll generate additional funds through paid university speaking engagements, fundraising events and additional donor drives, and foundation grants. (See our project budget linked above.)

While raising money is never as much fun as doing the work it pays for, it is how many like-minded people can join together and all play an essential role in making this work happen. And as a former director of a non-profit organization (as well as a journalist, organizer and advocate), Krane also has plenty of prior fundraising experience.

Finding a publisher for his book will be a new challenge. Krane’s extensive journalism work has provided him with lots of writing experience, but he has only dealt with newspapers, magazines and online journals. He has yet to deal with a publishing house. But with the advice of his friends who have, we are confident he will be able to meet this challenge as well.

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    An original Thank You e-card!

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    A Thank You e-card, PLUS a Campaign Supporter Certificate suitable for framing!

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    All of the above, PLUS excerpts from the high school student publications and other updates on FSP’s progress e-mailed to you at the end of each month, beginning September 2015!

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    All of the above, PLUS your name listed in the acknowledgements section of Damon Krane's book about Free Student Press (see project description)!

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    All of the above, PLUS one original 8” x 10” black and white pencil portrait by Damon Krane (see project description) based on the photo of your choice! (First 4 pledges at this level receive portraits by December 15, 2015; the rest by December 15, 2016).

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    First 5 rewards, PLUS one original 11” x 14” black and white pencil portrait by Damon Krane, based on the photo of your choice! (First 4 pledges at this level receive portraits by December 15, 2015; the rest by December 15, 2016).

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    First 5 rewards, plus one original 14" x 17” black and white pencil portrait by Damon Krane from the photo of your choice (by December 15, 2016), PLUS a public speaking engagement by Damon Krane at the location of your choice within the continental U.S.!

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Funding period

- (60 days)