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Teaching Free Speech

or not teaching it, as Dave brings to my attention:

… when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

This certainly qualifies for my Shocking! Outrageous! file. High school is old enough that students should have a better appreciation for what is arguably the single most impactful sentence ever written. The First Amendment is among a very small number of other clauses that are sacred to the American form of government.

I wonder how those students would react to the equivalent sections of the Oregon Constitution? The free speech clause (Article I, Section 8) is even more explicit:

No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print freely on any subject whatever; but every person shall be responsible for the abuse of this right.

The news article suggests they wouldn't get it:

When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.

That's a sad number for the students, but I won't be too hard on the young. I'm more upset with the teachers and principals — not only are they failing to teach the First Amendment, some of them don't even agree with it!

This seems so strange to me that I wonder about the methodology of the survey. The precise wording of questions can introduce a large bias in the results. Were people asked "Should people be allowed to express unpopular views?" or "Should the government be allowed to restrict expression of unpopular views?" The former question doesn't make the context clear. Non-government restriction of unpopular views is perfectly okay, so even I would answer that in some circumstances restrictions on unpopular views are fine. I would never allow a government restriction, though.

I doubt the survey suffers from bad sampling. This was a huge group:

The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools took part in early 2004.

Were the statisticians asleep when this survey was put together? Those samples are much, much bigger than are necessary. They're quite excessive.

… a final thought. The news article ends with several paragraphs tying the topic of the survey into the topic of school media activities, complete with complaints that there's not enough money for them.

Where do I have to go to get journalists who report news rather than tying news into an obvious political agenda (increasing funding for schools)? At least this irrelevant crap was buried at the end of the article rather than permeating throughout.

Here's an idea, journalists: If it's "important for all students to learn some journalism skills", how about role modeling being a journalist instead of an activist? That deserves a Shocking! Outrageous! of its own.

Tiny Island