Social Studies

More High School Students Support First Amendment Freedoms

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — February 09, 2017 3 min read
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Most high schoolers believe that people should be able to express unpopular opinions in public. But they’re less supportive of allowing people to publicly share opinions or posts on social media that are bullying or offensive.

That’s according to the Future of the First Amendment report released by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this week. This is the sixth study the foundation has published that examines high schoolers’ attitudes toward issues related to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This year’s report is based on a poll of 11,998 students and 726 teachers conducted last May by The Stats Group.

The report tracks young people’s evolving attitudes towards a set of issues that, while always timely, have dominated the news in early 2017, including the trustworthiness of media and news shared on social media, bullying, and the role of offensive speech.

In this year’s report, 91 percent of high schoolers said it’s important for people to be able to express an unpopular opinion in public. In 2004, just 83 percent of surveyed high schoolers agreed. But fewer students (45 percent) supported free speech in public that might offend others, and 36 percent supported speech that might be considered bullying.

Students’ attitudes toward the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of religion, speech, the press, and the right of people to peaceably assemble have become more favorable in the years the foundation has been releasing the report. Students are still less likely to disagree with the statement that “the First Amendment goes too far in guaranteeing free expression rights,” than their teachers: 75 percent of teachers reported disagreeing with the statement, compared to 56 percent of students.

But the percent of students who disagree that the amendment goes too far has been steadily increasing—from just 37 percent in 2006—while the portion of teachers who disagree has wavered over the years.

More than half of students reported using their mobile devices or social media to get news, while just 4 percent relied on printed newspapers and 28 percent on TV news. Forty-nine percent said that they had “some” or “a lot” of trust in the news they gathered on social media. A recent report from Stanford University found that many high schoolers had trouble distinguishing between fake and real news.

Some of the other findings:

  • Students are more likely than their teachers to believe that journalists and other people should have similar rights to document events: 44 percent of students and 46 percent of teachers believe journalists should be able to photograph or video “whomever or whatever they want” and publish the results, while 39 percent of students and 34 percent of teachers think people should have that same ability.
  • 64 percent of students said they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to record or document an event near them and post it on social media. Just 27 percent of teachers said the same.
  • 76 percent of students are at least somewhat concerned about their privacy on the internet.
  • Female students are more concerned than male students about online privacy.
  • 72 percent of students believe people should be able to make phone calls or send online messages without government surveillance.

For more of the findings, find the full report here.

Infographic source: Knight Foundation

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.