WASHINGTON – Three fourths of high school students believe it is illegal to burn an American flag,according to a new report on attitudes toward the First Amendment.
The report,“Future of the First Amendment: What America's High School Students Think About Their Freedoms,” showed high school students today are apathetic toward and ignorant of the First Amendment's guarantees,said David Yolof from the University of Connecticut,one of the principle researchers for the project.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “These results show a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding of the First Amendment.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that state laws that ban flag burning violate the First Amendment's protection of free speech.
The study questioned 112,000 students,7,889 teachers and 327 principals. Yolof said the report found apathy doesn't stop with students. Among high school teachers and principals,only 25 percent thought student newspapers should be able to report on controversial issues without the approval of school authorities.
The report also found that 49 percent of students thought newspapers shouldn't be able to publish without prior government approval.
Vanessa Shelton,director of the Iowa High School Press Association,said Iowa generally does well with the First Amendment,but she sees changes as faculty members retire.
“You have some schools where they have a strong journalism program,which means there is a strong teacher behind them,” she said. “But,a couple years later,that teacher may retire and the new teacher is new in the classroom and maybe doesn't understand the First Amendment and students aren't learning how the First Amendment applies to them.”
Yolof said the survey had three main sections – a profile of attitudes and knowledge among high school students,the differences of opinion between students involved in media and those who aren't and the learning environment for the First Amendment in all areas of the curriculum.
The report showed higher understanding among students involved in school media,such as newspapers. But it noted that only 47 percent of students in the study attended schools with one media activity and just 18 percent attended schools with more than one media activity.
“First Amendment rights would be more universally known if they were classroom staples,” Yolof said.
The First Amendment Center,with the help of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation commissioned the report and will release recommendations for change later this year.
Carole Simpson,former ABC news anchor,has traveled around the country for the network speaking to adolescents about being informed citizens,and she said she has found the same results.
“Studies show young people are not watching the news,” she said. “I have just been so horrified with our young people. They don't see why that's so important to know.”
Simpson said engaging teenagers in what is going on is essential to democracy.
“The real challenge for news media is to get their attention,” she said. “We have got to change,because I am really scared about a free press today.”