Monday, January 31, 2005

Little Big Brother

Stories like this one always bring to mind the oft-repeated saying, "the children are our future." However, I never quite imagined it to be Orwell's future. In the largest study of its kind, the University of Connecticut surveyed "100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools" on their attitudes towards the First Amendment. "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."

Obviously, something is wrong here, and it doesn't have to do with school funding. The content of our national education is seriously lacking, as the article later mentions. Not enough time is being spent teaching youth about concepts that are central not only to understanding our republic but to ensuring its survival in the future. There has to be a way to integrate these things into the existing educational frameworks. Reading the Bill of Rights and the Constitution should be standard fare in all high schools, period. I hate to say it, but the only reason that I ended up reading the Constitution is because my teacher insisted upon it, whereas most kids in my grade did not read it as a part of their U.S. History course. This is especially troubling considering that I was fortunate enough to attend one of the best-known private schools in the country. I can understand that teaching the Constitution must be rife with sticky political considerations, but when you're missing the point of the First Amendment, something has to change.


At 12:52 AM, Blogger Nick said...

The other day I was asked "do you want to hear something really depressing and elitist? Think about how dumb the median person in the country is. Now think about the half of the population which by definition is dumber than he."

Every time I get up on my moral high horse to defend the median American...something like this survey comes up. There's no reason, though, that the bar for knowledge of and respect for the Constitution has to be set so low. When I think about those wasted years of middle school history, I can't help but suspect we have the time to teach schoolchildren about the Constitution - if we have the will to.

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Well Kyle, you beat Nick and I both to the punch on this one. I have to say that when I read this story this morning, I was deeply disturbed. I still almost can't believe it. The fact that half of our nation's youth endorse restrictions on the freedom of the press can't seem to bode well for our democracy.

Sen. Robert Byrd has apparently suggested that schools should spend Sep. 17 (the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution) teaching about the Constitution. Perhaps if schools spent the same amount of students' time trying to get them to sell merchandise (such as those ridiculous wrapping paper drives) on the Bill of Rights, we wouldn't have this problem. I find it hard to believe that in all the countless hours students spend in school there isn't room in the curriculum for something as basic as the freedom of speech. However, according to the Associated Press, it is: "The study suggests that students embrace First Amendment freedoms if they are taught about them and given a chance to practice them, but schools don't make the matter a priority." I wonder if the simple reform needed to simply discuss these ideas in the classroom setting and promote them within the academic atmosphere (school papers, free speech promoted within schools, etc.) will be embraced by school districts horrified by this report.

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a hard time believing that the Leave No Child Behind Act will rectify this horrifying problem. It is ironic that the neo-con crowd is bemoaning the erosion of "values" in this country, and yet they are hardly up in arms about the ignorance of an entire generation. Here is where the REAL values problem in our country lies...

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe the constitution isn't such hot shit.


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