What are they teaching in high school so that kids today think like this? Do the kids just go there and socialize, or do they eat their schoolbooks or something?
Chicago Tribune said:Red flag warning
Teenagers know little about--and put little faith in--America's tattered free speech heritage
THE 1ST AMENDMENT
A poll of 100,000 high school students
By Charles M. Madigan, Tribune senior correspondent and Perspective editor
Published March 20, 2005
Given the modern media atmosphere, it is hard to believe the 1st Amendment is in trouble. In this brave new world, all manners of language, assumption, scurrilous bilge and flapdoodle are afoot as expression takes a joyride on the expanding technology and ease of access of the Internet, the nation's freshest communications carnival.
You can say pretty much whatever you want there, any way you want to say it.
It provides both a hall pass for the sophomoric and a pathway for efforts that nudge right up against being profound.
You can advertise sexual fantasies and provide pictures. You can sell bogus pills from China. You can argue about philosophies. You can name-call and poke fun. You can present news very close to the point at which it happens. You can comment instantly.
You can blog until you are blue in the fingers.
The Internet's capacity for unbridled performances of all kinds is limited only by the perversity, the imagination, the creativity or the talents of the author.
In America, that is.
In some parts of the world, daring behaviors on the Internet can lead to a prison sentence or worse. Even taking advantage of access to it is a big risk.
Freedom of expression is one of the hallmarks of the American experience, a right we have cherished from the earliest days of the republic. Everything that is published here rests on that foundation, along with everything that is broadcast or televised.
You can get in trouble and face a huge fine if you flash a nipple on national TV during Super Bowl halftime, we now know. But that was an after-the-fact punishment that ignored a loud reality that over on cable TV, there are flashed nipples aplenty.
There are rules about what you can do on the public airwaves, so the genuinely tawdry or vulgar performance has migrated to pay TV.
But there are no rules about what you can say if you want to climb up on a soapbox in Grant Park and expound your theories about how the government and the corporations are using materialism to suck the souls from the populace.
We have constitutional permission to rage all we want.
There's nothing vague about the foundation provided by the 1st Amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
It's not just a Norman Rockwell painting.
It's a guarantee that--short of becoming the cliched fool who shouts "fire" in a crowded theater that is not burning--what you feel you have to say, you can say.
The problem is there are cracks in the foundation. Amazingly, a lot of people are confused about the 1st Amendment, particularly a lot of high school students. In a recently released poll, about three in four say they don't know how they feel about the 1st Amendment, or they take it for granted.
The Knight Foundation's High School Initiative was aimed at collecting a base line of information on attitudes about the 1st Amendment. Its survey, conducted by the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut, questioned more than 100,000 students, along with faculty and administrators at 544 high schools across the nation.
Troubling numbers The results show that three in four students think that burning the flag, a time-tested gesture of protest, is illegal (it is not). Half of those students believe the government can censor what is on the Internet (it cannot).
And most troubling of all, particularly for advocates of expression, more than a third of those high school students think the 1st Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.
If they carry those attitudes into adulthood, they will undoubtedly join the mass of grown-up Americans who also have little knowledge or little respect for the 1st Amendment. The Knight poll results stand as a waving red flag for supporters of expression in the United States.
The danger is personal, even though it has implications for all media.
American democracy is constructed on an assumption that an informed citizenry will ultimately make decisions through its elected representatives.
What happens if you begin editing your complaints, thinking that it's not legal even to raise them?
What if "petitioning the government" never enters your mind because you didn't know that was an option?
How could it be that so many young people have become so confused?
Hodding Carter III, the Knight Foundation's chief executive officer and president, said the poll results reflect a complicated set of causes that stretches from budget cutbacks that have all but killed civic education in public schools to the demographics of the modern classroom.
"The truth is that a large, much larger percentage over the overall school population now comes from first generation or immigrant Americans who simply have no reason to have a grounding in the Constitution and 1st Amendment principles because they come from countries and cultures without them," Carter said.
In a different era, there was an assumption in education that civics would be presented first in elementary school and then again in high school.
"I think that various educational reform movements over the last 40 or 50 years have increasingly emphasized almost everything but civic education," Carter said. "And the multiple laying of responsibility on schools, whether for feeding the hungry or dealing with the medical conditions of children, and the latter-day emphasis on teaching to tests have essentially marginalized civic education."
Tight budgets have led to a different set of priorities, he said, "because other things have been held to be more important by the people who drive education policy."
Then again, there is the inherent controversy that floats around issues of free speech.
"It becomes the third rail for an awful lot of teachers," Carter said. "Teacher didn't shut up Jimmy when Jimmy said America had no business being in Iraq. Then daddy, whose brother is in Iraq, comes rolling into school complaining about talking against the war. This plays out in a lot of different ways."
Carter admits that he would hesitate if he heard, for example, that there was a discussion in school about the merits of reinstituting segregation, "But I hope I would shut up about it."
The truest test, he said, is not in personal expression.
"The real test comes when people are raising issues, asking questions or printing material which really irritates the hell out of the majority blabbing on about any number of subjects," he said. It requires "a total openness and willingness to tolerate all voices."
People have been watching erosion of attitudes toward the 1st Amendment for years, and while the news is indeed troubling, there are some bright spots.
Teaching freedom Molly McCloskey runs a program for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development that is trying to cut to the heart of the problem with the First Amendment Project.
To one degree or another, the program is operating in 13 states. It is constructed on the assumption that people go into teaching careers because they care about children and the future of the nation.
"It's one thing to go into a classroom and say there is freedom of the press," McCloskey said. "It's another thing to go in and teach journalism ethics and coach kids about using that freedom. When we talk about petitions, problem solving, civil friction, we want our kids to be able to honor diverse opinions and present persuasive arguments for any issue in a way that remains civil."
The program trains school administrators and teachers in the freedoms embodied in the 1st Amendment.
"How do I run my classroom to reflect democratic principles? What opportunities do kids have to control their own learning in a way that teaches them responsibilities?" she said.
It has not yet solved the problem.
But it has involved students in everything from the governance of their schools to the menus in cafeterias.
Knowing the details of the 1st Amendment simply isn't enough, she said.
"You have to have the skills and the attitude which, in fact, define citizenship. The content is important, but it's the behavior we are focusing on."
It's still a small program, but it is a beginning.
It could be that, given the right attention and the revival of civics as a course and also as a way of life, the gradual erosion of support for the 1st Amendment could be turned around.
If it isn't, the teenagers who pay so little attention to this fundamental right might find out later in life that they have problems to address and injustices to protest, but no effective way to do either.