Constitution Day was just two days ago. To celebrate some organizations created memes and quizzes to remind Americans, especially young people, about the foundation of the law of our land.
American high school students have an appreciation for the freedoms granted to Americans already, particularly those that allow us to speak freely. However, they are more protective than ever and more concerned about freedom of speech than adults. This will have implications for any government policies and politicians -who promote policies- that limit those freedoms.
Ninety percent of high school students think people should be able to freely express unpopular opinions and six in ten say that government should not censor the press. These are sharp increases from 76 percent just seven years ago. This is according to the results of survey conducted by the journalism nonprofit organization, the Knight Foundation, which has surveyed high school students and their educators over the past decade to understand their view of the First Amendment.
This is the first time that students have been more protective of the First Amendment than their instructors. Only 24 percent of them agree with the statement “The First Amendment goes too far”, compared to 38 percent of U.S. teachers who feel that way. However, in 2006, 45 percent of high-schoolers felt that the First Amendment went too far, compared to only 23 percent of teachers.
What’s driving such dramatic shifts? Perhaps it’s been the scandals under the Obama Administration involving the press and the IRS. Or perhaps it’s because these students are the first to grow up with the internet as an integral part of their lives.
Here’s more from the report:
Like those before it, this survey holds a surprise. For the first time, American high school students show a greater overall appreciation for the First Amendment than do adults.
What happened? One explanation: the digital age. In 2011, Connecticut researcher Ken Dautrich found “a clear, positive relationship” between social media use and support for free expression. He now finds the same link between digital media use overall and the First Amendment.
Student news diets are increasingly digital, social and mobile. In 2007, for example, only 8 percent of students surveyed reported consuming news and information daily through mobile devices. This time around, 62 percent do—another all-time high.
As students become more and more connected to the never-ending news streams in cyberspace, as they add their voices to the global conversation, is it any wonder they seem to know more, to care more, about the freedoms that make this possible?
The study raised other issues of concern. Most high school students say that First Amendment rights should apply to their school activities. But most teachers disagree. How can the First Amendment be taught without being allowed? In addition, most students oppose having their online activities monitored by business or spied upon by government. Yet few students (and few teachers) knew a lot about revelations that the National Security Agency collects vast amounts of domestic data from phone calls and emails.
The implications are important for our political system. Policies that trample on the freedoms and privacy of Americans are unpopular among this group of future voters and whose perceptions will shape public policy in decades to come.
Perhaps that is why those politicians who eschew the actions of the National Security Administration (NSA) and other surveillance programs on Americas, are growing in popularity.
Recent surveys and reports from the Reason Foundation and Pew Foundation point to a libertarian streak among Millennials (18-34 year olds). This report suggests that our younger siblings may be even more protective of these rights.
The next question is what will these students do to protect those freedoms? Baby Boomers protested en masse when they wanted to make a point. How will this next generation respond? At minimum they'll have the ballot box. More than likely, they'll look to Millennial siblings for their cue.
Washington would do well to take note. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s voters.