Monday, January 31, 2005

The Freedom Loving Young Americans

U.S. teenagers appear not to care about the First Amendment. A study analyzing their opinions showed that:

The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.

Yet, 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.

Other findings of the study suggest that the teachers are more willing to allow others to express unpopular views (97%) than their students are (83%), and that many students don't know what the Bill of Rights guarantees.

The reaction to these findings has been moaning and whining about the indifference of students and about the lack of teaching on these issues in schools. Yes, all that is necessary and important to do, but I wonder what earlier studies would have shown about the students of earlier generations. Were the teenagers of the 1980's and 1990's any better informed or any more passionate?

I don't know the answer to this, but I suspect that the vast majority of teenagers has always been fairly uninformed and fairly uninterested in anything that doesn't affect their personal lives very directly. It's always the minorities who start change and initiate revolutions, and the real question is whether today's active and informed minorities are smaller than those in the past.
The study covered more than 100,000 students and was carried out early in 2004.