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Will Social Media Save the First Amendment?

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Will Social Media Save the First Amendment?

By Linda Dobson

Constitution first amendmentBecause the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s High School Initiative encourages students to use news media and appreciate the First Amendment, it funds the “Future of the First Amendment’’ research project, “focusing on the knowledge and attitudes of high school students, teachers and administrators. Specifically, the study seeks to determine whether relationships exist – and, if so, the nature of those relationships – between what teachers and administrators think, and what students do in their classrooms and with news media, and what they know about the First Amendment.”

The million-dollar project surveyed more than 100,000 high school students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators and principals at 544 high schools across the United States.

First, let’s look at the few key findings included in the study’s press release:

•  Nearly three-fourths of high school students either do not know how they feel about the First Amendment or admit they take it for granted.

•  Seventy-five percent erroneously think flag burning is illegal.

•  Half believe the government can censor the Internet.

•  More than a third think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.

The Knight Foundation’s president stated, “These results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous. Ignorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nation’s future.”

Oh, yes it is.

Apparently, student media across the country are suffering from budget cuts, apathy or both. “Programs are under siege or dying from neglect,” adds Warren Watson, director of the J-Ideas project at Ball State University (IN). Then he adds the bane of students everywhere: “Many students do not get the opportunity to practice our basic freedoms.”

How can we expect school children to understand either their rights or their responsibilities to maintain those rights if the environment in which they spend the majority of their time doesn’t allow the practice of them?

See also “Politicians Blame Teachers, Teachers Blame Parents

Teachers, Administrators and First Amendment Rights

Fast Company chose to focus on “Teens And Their Teachers At Odds Over Social Media, First Amendment Rights” for its Internet coverage. If you thought the students’ results were dangerous…

“…most American teachers believe students should not have the right to unbridled, free speech online.”

“Alarmingly, 26% of American high school teachers believe that websites should not be allowed to publish freely without some sort of ‘government approval.'”

Government approval? I hope this doesn’t mean that one out of four teachers is sharing this nonsense with students.

The only mention of administrators appears at the very end of the first link: “Administrators say student learning about the First Amendment is a priority, but not a high priority.”

I guess it’s not on the test.

Social Media: The Saving Grace of the First Amendment?

The best ray of hope for the First Amendment shines from students. To be more specific, free speech seems to rest in the hands of students who use social media!

“Study author Dr. Kenneth Dautrich of the Pert Group found a correlation between teenage free speech advocacy and social media use. According to the report’s findings, 91% of American teenagers who use social media daily believe that people have the right to express unpopular opinions. Only 77% of those who don’t use social media daily believe that people have the right to widely share these beliefs online.”

“This survey shows a clear link between use of social media and appreciation of the First Amendment,” adds Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation.

Homeschoolers have long understood what this study shows. Learning sticks, learning has meaning, when it applies to real life situations pertinent to the learner’s experience. The learner first needs to be interested primarily because the information has personal value.

I’m sure the majority of homeschoolers are helping their children learn about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. If your child is in school, it’s imperative to talk about the First Amendment – and the others – because this knowledge is top priority, despite what administrators may say.


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