Knight Survey: High School Students Support First Amendment More Than Adults

photo courtesy CHSTV, via Poynter.org
photo courtesy CHSTV, via Poynter.org
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High School students, who rank among the heaviest users of digital media, support First Amendment freedoms more than adults, for the first time in more than a decade, according to a recent survey by the Knight Foundation.

The national study polled 10,463 high school students and 588 teachers and the results, according to Knight, suggest that increased digital news consumption coupled with classroom teaching could be responsible for high school students’ somewhat surprising views.

“Student use of social, mobile and digital media to consume news is at all-time highs, and so is student support of the First Amendment,” said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of Knight Foundation. “The most supportive students of all are heavy digital media users who also have had a class explaining the First Amendment.”

In a release, the foundation said that the report could hold important implications for the future of the First Amendment, since courts routinely interpret the meaning of the first amendment within the context of public opinion.

Key findings from the study include:

High school students show more appreciation for the First Amendment than adults. Only 24 percent of students said that the First Amendment goes too far in guaranteeing the rights of religion, speech, press assembly and petition. In comparison, a Newseum Institute survey that tracks adult opinions on the first amendment showed that 38 percent of adults feel this way.

More students than ever show support for First Amendment: Nine in 10 students surveyed said that people should have freedom of speech and 60 percent opposed government surveillance of online information and phone calls even to identify terrorists.

Digital media works hand-in-hand with the classroom. First Amendment support is highest among students who had a class that dealt with the First Amendment and used digital media on a regular basis.

Most teachers do not support free expression for students creating content about their schools. In a generational divide, the majority of teachers disagree that First Amendment rights should apply to school activities. For example, 57 percent of teachers feel that students should not be allowed to report on controversial issues in student newspapers and 67 percent say that students should not be allowed to express their opinions about teachers and school administrators on Facebook without penalty.

Do you think that users of digital media tend to support First Amendment rights more than non-users? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @10000words.