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Take the Fight for Democracy to Our High Schools

This from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:

America’s high schools are leaving the First Amendment behind. Educators are not giving high school students an appreciation of free speech and free press, according to the study researchers, who questioned more than 100,000 high school students, nearly 8,000 teachers, and more than 500 principals and administrators.

Here are the key findings from the complete report:

1. High school students tend to express little appreciation for the First Amendment. Nearly three-fourths say either they don’t know how they feel about it or take it for granted.

2. Students are less likely than adults to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions or newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

3. Students lack knowledge and understanding about key aspects of the First Amendment. Seventy-five percent incorrectly think that flag burning is illegal. Nearly half erroneously believe the government can restrict indecent material on the Internet.

4. Students who do not participate in any media-related activities are less likely to think that people should be allowed to burn or deface the American flag. Students who have taken more media and/or First Amendment classes are more likely to agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions

5. Students who take more media and/or First Amendment classes are more willing to answer questions about their tolerance of the First Amendment. Those who have not taken the classes say they “don’t know” to First Amendment questions at a much higher rate.

6. Most administrators say student learning about journalism is a priority for their school, but less than 1 in 5 think it is a high priority, and just under a third say it is not a priority at all. Most, however, feel it is important for all students to learn some journalism skills.

7. Most administrators say they would like to see their school expand existing student media, but lack of financial resources is the main obstacle.

8. Students participating in student-run newspapers are more likely to believe that students should be allowed to report controversial issues without approval of school authorities than students who do not participate in student newspapers.

9. Student media opportunities are not universally offered in schools across the country. In fact, more than 1 in 5 schools (21 percent) offer no student media whatsoever.

10. Of the high schools that do not offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated student papers within the past five years. Of those, 68 percent now have no media.

11. Low-income and non-suburban schools have a harder time maintaining student media programs than wealthier and suburban schools.

12. Interestingly, virtually the same percentage of students participate in media activities in schools that offer a high volume of student media, as in those schools with no media programs. Apparently, students interested in journalism find a way to participate in informal media activities, even if their school does not offer formal opportunities.

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