The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Pelley’s Perspective

As America delves deeper into the practice of liberally “democratizing” sovereign nations, a disturbing study of our country’s youth showing their under appreciation of democratic freedoms has received little attention.

The $1 million study, released by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation earlier this month, showed American high school students believe censorship of newspapers may be necessary and forms of protest such as flag burning are not protected by the First Amendment, according to an Associated Press article.

Of the 100,000 students surveyed from 544 public schools in early 2004, more than one-third said the First Amendment goes “too far” in the rights it guarantees, and only half of the students thought newspapers should be able to publish without government interference. Furthermore, three-fourths of those surveyed thought flag burning was illegal, according to the article.

In U.S. high schools, almost all students are required to take some sort of an American government class. However, as this study shows, teachers are not able to conceptualize the importance of our own Constitution and relate the wording of the Bill of Rights to the freedoms youth take for granted today.

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In response to the study, Linda Putney, executive director of the Journalism Education Association, said the First Amendment simply is not being taught in high schools, and students are not able to associate the abstract wording of a 200-year-old document to rights they enjoy on a daily basis.

It is also important to point out that the teachers and administrators surveyed did not believe in censorship of speech. Of the 8,000 teachers and 500 administrators, 97 percent of teachers and 98 percent of administrators said people should be able to express their views, no matter how unpopular. Only 83 percent of students agreed, according to the article.

The implication of this void in American secondary education has potentially devastating results for the future of our country. Not only are these students approaching an age in which they will be trusted to vote, but more disturbingly, they possibly may join the military without knowledge of the Bill of Rights.

Since the institution of the Bush Doctrine and preemptively attacking “oppressive” states to spread freedom and democracy, our own country has given a back seat to those democratic ideals it originally was founded on.

The USA Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic restriction of the First Amendment in our lifetime, saw overwhelming support in both the House and Senate (with only our own Sen. Russ Feingold voting against it). It is a travesty that students still are subjected to a principal of obedience from the time they are in kindergarten, yet aren’t given the information to protect their rights before they graduate and enter the adult world.

To blame the teachers alone for this inadequacy in public schooling is short-sighted. Origins of youth’s dismissal of the First Amendment are much deeper than merely the textbooks they read and lectures they hear. This is the generation whose parents were the great dissenters of the Nixon and Johnson administrations. The change in social climate that occurred, and is continuing to occur, reflects the overall result of apathy. The majority of today’s youth lacks the passion to envision a society free of First Amendment violations by government entities. As they should have been developing their political identities four or five years ago, they instead were bombarded with biased news mediums covering trashy scandals.

Teachers are not able to conceptualize the importance of our own constitution.

High school students today see their parent’s generation as being the political one. And, with that generation now controlling the Clear Channel and Gannett mega-media empires, more tend to follow in their parent’s footsteps of voting for economic gain over civil and social freedom. It is important to point out that the White House is not complaining, especially in light of the recent discoveries of partisan pundits being paid by the administration to tout rhetoric under the guise of independence.

The Republicans are not solely to blame for both the apathetic mentality and misunderstanding of the Bill of Rights. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., pushed through a directive that he thought would make students excited about the Constitution. He made it mandatory for schools to teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17, the date the document was signed in 1787. Such a ridiculous attempt to stimulate thoughtful discussion of the manuscript that created our country is a disservice to America’s adolescents.

The fact is, it is more important now than it ever has been to instill in youth the significance of the First Amendment, not that it is easy to do in an institution that indoctrinates obedience from age 5. Hopefully, this study will spur at least a minor ripple that can ignite the realization of the importance of our First Amendment rights.

Pelleymounter is a senior print journalism and political science major and editorial editor of The Spectator. Pelley’s Perspective is a weekly column that appears every Thursday.

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