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You shouldn't say that [Jan. 31st, 2005|03:15 pm]
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

According to a new study, high school students think that freedom of speech is overrated. People are appalled and there is a general scolding regarding the lack of teaching about the Bill of Rights.

Personally, I hold the First Amendment to be one of the greatest ideas ever brought forth by the Founding Fathers. Seeing the original Bill of Rights during our visit to Washington, DC, last summer moved me to tears.

And yet, I am not that surprised.

High school students, despite all that rebellion and teen angst, are a remarkably conservative lot. Paradoxically, they claim to dislike the rules and yet they are distressed by the perception that people are not obeying them. They like a sense of order.

In short, a lot of these kids aren't ready, intellectually, to deal with the notion that radical ideas are not wrong just because you don't agree with them. It doesn't help that the school system rarely offers them opportunity to debate such issues and work through them, but even if it did, most of them would probably still not get it until later, because it is so contrary to their immature understanding of the world.

I can remember, when I was in high school, being infuriated at the notion that the ACLU would support the right of the KKK to march. What were they thinking, to support hatred like that? It was only later when I came to understand that freedom of ideas means freedom of all ideas, even the ones we find reprehensible.

[User Picture]From: theferrett
2005-01-31 12:22 pm (UTC)
Did you clear this with the government?
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-31 12:25 pm (UTC)
Well, of course. Everything I write has a government endorsement.

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[User Picture]From: lupinlover
2005-01-31 12:23 pm (UTC)
As a high school student, my theory is that the real problem with high school students these days is apathy. I could expand, but to be honest, I haven't cared enough to think further on it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-31 12:26 pm (UTC)

I think apathy is a problem. Too much is spoon-fed, and not enough done to give you reasons to care.
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[User Picture]From: ktar
2005-01-31 12:34 pm (UTC)
Speaking as senior editor of a school newspaper that has to fight censorship every single week; if I heard anyone say freedom of speech is overrated I'd be jumping at them with a baseball bat.

And fortunately, the indiviuduals i surround myself with do mostly understand the true nature of free speech.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-31 12:57 pm (UTC)
Yes, you are seeing it in action. A lot of these kids simply don't, and they are too self-involved to "get it." Intellectual exercise and abstract thinking are not skills that seem to be taught much at the high school level these days.
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[User Picture]From: ktar
2005-01-31 01:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, sadly all the teachers that seem to focus on that are retiring or dying off. I'm almost afraid of the next wave of new teachers.
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[User Picture]From: miripanda
2005-01-31 12:38 pm (UTC)
I feel like this has something to do with that whole general structure of education - kids aren't often expected or asked to disagree or diverge from the norm. If they keep their heads down and go with the flow, they're more likely to succeed. Of course it makes them nervous to hear of dissidence and "acting outside the box" behaviors. When you live in a regmentalized system, everything else makes you nervous.

But I don't believe it's just apathy. I believe it's a lack of opportunities to "safely" challenge the system.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-31 12:57 pm (UTC)
Valid point. We need more rigorous intellectual thinking taught in the schools.
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[User Picture]From: astridsdream
2005-02-01 03:21 pm (UTC)
If they keep their heads down and go with the flow, they're more likely to succeed.

Speaking from personal experience, this is completely true. I got A's in high school and college because I knew how to follow the system and I knew what the teachers were looking for and I gave it to them. I didn't even have to work very hard to be outstanding because the rest of my peers didn't see how to do that. Does that make me smarter than them? I don't think so. Does it make me a sheep?

I don't know.
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[User Picture]From: miripanda
2005-02-02 06:32 am (UTC)
That's pretty much what I did as well, learning how to give the system its minimum requirements. It's not that I never went above and beyond the assignment, or that I never learned critical and analytical thinking, but that I learned how to use and conserve it for the times that mattered. I did have some teachers who demanded that we all think as adults, but most wanted to make sure we learned the curriculum and could parrot it back as neccessary. It's not being a sheep, it's learning a skill.

I can't tell if standardized testing makes things better - yes it ensures a general level of education, but that level isn't very high. I aced every single SOL (we take them every few years in VA) even the ones I took on 5 hours of sleep and a granola bar.
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[User Picture]From: dingodonkey
2005-01-31 12:43 pm (UTC)
When I looked at the data that Yahoo posted, my conclusion wasn't "they think the First Amendment is overrated" at all.

Students aren't as likely to think newspapers should say whatever they want without government approval, but they don't care much about those -- they are more likely to think that the music they love should be free to say whatever it wants and that their school papers shouldn't require administration approval. So the students don't really care about the idea of the First Amendment, they just care about their specific concerns.

Similarly, look at the teachers and principals. They seem to be huge proponents of the government leaving the media alone but not the administration leaving the kids alone. They also don't nearly as much like freedom of speech in popular music. They're also serving their own interests.

And of course, everybody thinks they should be allowed to express unpopular opinions. That's something that will vary wildly based on wording, and is almost a meaningless question.

The conclusion? The students and teachers and principals aren't really thinking about the First Amendment in principle at all, but only whether or not it should apply to their specific wants. I don't like using the word "overrated" for that -- it's a little different, although certainly not opposing or unrelated.

Also to consider carefully:
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.

I don't think these students are as likely to know the history of Supreme Court interpretation of the amendment. I think most people, if read the First Amendment literally and asked about it, would say it was guaranteeing too much -- that awful, awful example of yelling fire that people love to bring up comes to mind. Adults aren't as likely to say it guarantees too much because we don't have such a "virgin understanding" of it. At least, that makes sense to me.

But still, I'm somewhat (though not very) surprised about the students' ideas on government newspaper censorship.
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[User Picture]From: valarltd
2005-01-31 12:48 pm (UTC)
Blessed be the norm.
Watch thou always for the mutant.

Conformity is a way of life in high school. Not only must you conform to authority's expectations, you must conform to peer expectations.

Dissent from either set of norms is ruthlessly crushed by a variety of methods ranging from mockery to in-school suspension.

Of course these kids think freedom of speech is overrated. Painful experience has taught them that differing viewpoints are BAD.
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[User Picture]From: hookncrook
2005-01-31 12:53 pm (UTC)
Dear Abby just had an upsetting article about free speech in schools. A 13 year old was complaining about a teacher who reads them news artcles and then interjects her own opinions at the end. The girl claimed the teacher is mean and yells at students that have different views from her own. The kid stated she told the teacher she did not agree with the teacher's opinion and was given detention for a week over speaking her mind by the teacher.

Dear Abby basically told the student that they must have said their opinion rudely and deserved the detention for causing dissent in the classroom.

I am so tempted to write Mrs. Abby and tell her no child should be reprimanded because they express their opinion in class-- but I don't think it would take. It is no wonder that Freedom of Speech is so looked down on now, we are taught as children that our opinions don't matter or only buy us punishment--instead of being taught that we should speak our minds and that our views do matter.
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From: drooling_ferret
2005-01-31 01:16 pm (UTC)


DEAR ABBY: At my school, a period of time is dedicated to discussing world events. My teacher, "Mrs. Jones," has often shared her opinions about world events and our government with us. She has very strong opinions and usually gets upset when anyone disagrees with her. One day when she was talking, I told her I did not agree with her opinion and got detention for it. Personally, I don't think I deserved one.

I understand that I shouldn't be rude to teachers, but I believe that my comment was respectful. Was I out of line? -- UNCERTAIN IN FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J.

Kid sounds levelheaded. If that's how things went down, then I think the detention was out of order. Of course, we're lacking a lot of information to make such a judgement, but so is "Abby".

DEAR UNCERTAIN: If the comment was disruptive, it may have been. It would have been more diplomatic had you voiced your disagreement after the class was over.

Abby doesn't have a lot to offer, save that it's possible the kid's comment was disruptive, and that if it was, the punishment was not out of order. Nothing false or wrongheaded about it, but it's also a crappy answer. (Then again, it wasn't a great question...)

I am so tempted to write Mrs. Abby and tell her no child should be reprimanded because they express their opinion in class-- but I don't think it would take.

I'm kind of an asshole... that said, I'm much less so now than I was when I was in high school. I expressed my opinions all the damned time, and sometimes got in trouble for them. Usually, when I got in trouble, it wasn't because I expressed my opinions, but because I was a dick about it. Was the teacher overreacting, in some of those cases? Probably. But I was dead certain that every single punishment was an overreaction, back then.

It is no wonder that Freedom of Speech is so looked down on now, we are taught as children that our opinions don't matter or only buy us punishment--instead of being taught that we should speak our minds and that our views do matter.

Still, agreed that there isn't enough encouragement of creativity or free expression of ideas. However, that encouragement should take place in the framework of knowing that limits do exist, and that freedoms come with responsibilities. For instance, read what the NJ state constitution has to say about free speech. Doesn't make the issue any less thorny, but I think it sets the right tone for considering it.
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[User Picture]From: noshot
2005-01-31 01:14 pm (UTC)
Most people are hypocrites well past high school. I've never known many people who don't break the rules and don't go pointing their fingers at others. I don't think it's something people just grow out of.
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[User Picture]From: jaded_dreamer
2005-01-31 02:01 pm (UTC)
I remember feeling the same way. That changed for me when I got to college.
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[User Picture]From: greybeta
2005-01-31 02:02 pm (UTC)
I was lucky enough to learn in high school that the flag represented the right to burn it.
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2005-01-31 04:10 pm (UTC)
I wish it were only in high schools that we have this problem, but I think that a lack of respect for, and even understanding of, Freedom of Speech is much more pervasive.
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[User Picture]From: muted_seraph
2005-01-31 04:17 pm (UTC)
My history teacher in 10th grade made the quote "I may not like what you say but I'll defend to the death you're right to say it" a really big deal. But then I went to a charter school for artists, so freedom of speech was held sacrosanct. There was a big furor over the art teachers not letting two girls show their art at a show until the faculty finally relented and allowed it (though there was a curtain around it and a warning).

It's so weird that in high school and earlier schooling we're taught conform conform conform, and then in college you're supposed question and form your own opinions. And people wonder why the people my age turn out the way they do.
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[User Picture]From: labelleizzy
2005-01-31 05:35 pm (UTC)
this may make a good lesson-starter shortly.
we're beginning Brave New World.

thanks for the idea-germ!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-01-31 06:35 pm (UTC)
Yes! Engage them!
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[User Picture]From: labelleizzy
2005-02-01 03:43 pm (UTC)
grr. technical difficulties abound. xerox machine duplicated 2 articles, 1a/2b, 1b/2a - wrong backside to articles! bah!

I hate being a first year teacher sometimes...

i know that in 2 years I will have my shit together enough that I could improvise my way out of this, to engage them thoroughly...

Today barely worked, but the material has been presented and I will be trying to follow up on it this week.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-02-01 05:53 pm (UTC)
You're working at it, that's what counts.
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[User Picture]From: labelleizzy
2005-02-01 06:00 pm (UTC)
thanks for the encouragement. Much needed.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-01 08:11 pm (UTC)
And today, on "Scarsborough Country," Joe Scarsborough talked passionately about how "free speech has gone too far" and should be curbed. And how he can't believe that people can voice radically dissenting and controversial opinions and not be fired.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2005-02-02 03:16 am (UTC)
What an ass. Man, people have no idea what they've got, do they?
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