“Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation’s future.” Sounds like Washington, right? Nope. Gandhi? Wrong again. Martin Luther King Jr.? Strike three. The words were spoken by Hodding Carter III, sponsor of a $1 million study of 100,000 high school students. Carter wanted to find out how important the First Amendment was to the future leaders of America. His conclusion? “These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous.”
The nationwide survey, conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut, found that “when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than 1-in-3 high school students said it goes ‘too far’ in the rights it guarantees,” according to an Associated Press article.
Also reported were findings that “reflected indifference.” About three in every four students answered the First Amendment protects freedom they “didn’t know how they felt about it.”
The dismal popularity of the First Amendment may not only reflect the apathy of students but the lack of teaching surrounding the keystone of the Constitution.
According to the AP, about 1-in-5 high schools offer no journalism classes or media outlets and “of the high schools that do offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated them in the last five years,” largely due to budget constraints.
Students are less likely to defend a principle they don’t understand, and teachers are less likely to prioritize a subject they can’t fund. Consequently, just 50 percent of students said newspapers “should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.”
These students are creating their own “1984,” but this time it’s voluntary. Well here’s a note from Big Brother to high school students: We didn’t get permission to print this, and we may be espousing an “unpopular view” that a number of you don’t support. In the real world we call that freedom.