High-School Autocrats

by Kieran Healy on February 1, 2005

“This report”:http://edition.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/01/31/students.amendment.ap/index.html of a survey of more than 110,000 (!) students at 544 high schools has been getting a lot of play. The survey found that one in three high schoolers think the First Amendment “goes too far”; that three quarters believe that flag-burning is illegal; and that 36% of them thought newspapers should get “government approval” before publishing stories in the newspaper.

The White House issued a statement congratulating American students not just for their views on constitutional law, but also for their “accurate characterization of the relationship between the Executive branch and the White House Press Corps.”

OK, I just made that up about the White House. But the study is real. Further reading of the “full report”:http://firstamendment.jideas.org/downloads/future_final.pdf reveals the usual smorgasbord of opinion that surveys like this typically bring out. For instance, substantially more teenagers believe that “musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics others may find offensive” than believe that “newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.” Even better, whereas only 49 percent thought that newspapers should be able to report without government approval, 58 percent said that _school_ newspapers should be able to report controversial issues without the approval of school authorities. I guess it all depends on who you think The Man is — the Prez or the Principal.



Andrew McManama-Smith 01.31.05 at 10:25 pm

From the cnn article:
Federal and state officials, meanwhile, have bemoaned a lack of knowledge of U.S. civics and history among young people.

Have you ever seen a high school US history textbook? These students have spent all of their lives being indoctrinated about the absolute good of the US government in all things. It’s no suprise that students in the middle of this love the Government.


Jonathan Dursi 01.31.05 at 10:33 pm

Nearly everything about highschool, and that age cohort generally in this society, strongly encourages conformity, so I’m not completely shocked by the result — are there any previous studies one could compare this to and see if this is a new phenomenon?

Now, if these numbers persist as the kids go through university or the work world, well, then that’s pretty grim.


jet 01.31.05 at 11:03 pm

This study says more about principles and teachers than students. How can so many of our educators believe that musicians should be censored? WTF? Who are these educators who believe in checking with The Man before adding fuck to your song?

Just kidding. These types of polls are absolute crap, but fun to play with.


Sven 01.31.05 at 11:39 pm

If this survey’s anything like the ones I filled out in high school, there might be a strong correlation between the results and the dirty pictures one can draw by filling in the dots.


Mill 02.01.05 at 12:26 am

This survey means absolutely nothing, since as you point out the students (as a statistical mass) clearly don’t have proper political opinions yet, not the kind that encompass society as a whole. They only want freedom of the press for the press that means something to them, like school newspapers and Chingy CDs.

In thirty years, they’ll be parents, they’ll have had some interaction with the real world and they’ll realise that real newspapers can be just as important as school ones. Their answers will become the same as those of the current “adults”, and their teenage kids will be knee-jerk patriotic yet wild for the anti-American rhymes of Chingypatapong Shaft-Lee.


Jackmormon 02.01.05 at 2:49 am

I dunno, these statistics seem to mirror what I see in my undergrad classes: we want absolute freedom as individuals and consumers, but we think that everyone else should be reined in.


Randolph Fritz 02.01.05 at 5:24 am

Seems to me there were similar results from studies of the general public, going back to the 1950s or 1960s.


Mill 02.01.05 at 8:04 am

Exactly. It’s the “you’ll pry my arguably constitutionally-protected gun and my right to the confederate flag from my cold, dead hands, but I’ll do everything in my power to get the government to ban your arguably constitutionally-protected naked lady art” syndrome. The only difference is that instead of guns, high school students have Eminem and the school newspaper, so the absurdity is thrown into sharper relief.


John Quiggin 02.01.05 at 8:28 am

The results for school principals are pretty interesting, too.


Otto 02.01.05 at 1:24 pm

There would be no need for constitutionally entrenched protections if lots of people didn’t want to restrict liberties.


Otto 02.01.05 at 1:26 pm

There would be no need for constitutionally entrenched protections if lots of people didn’t want to restrict liberties.


UMS 02.01.05 at 8:58 pm

Of course, it takes an enlightened citizen, looking out for the liberties of others, rather than just taking license for himself, to avoid many of the conflicts we see today. Let’s hear it for self-control!


radek 02.02.05 at 12:32 am

I remember similar studies from previous years. I think they’re all basically in the “let’s get all hysterical about The Youth” category. Except here the angle is that they’re all little fascists, rather than “they can’t find Canada on a map”. You can’t take these things seriously.

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