super hanc petram

Monday, January 31

Blessed are the Children  

The graphic tells you all you need to know.

Many teeth will be gnashed and garments rended over this study of high schools students' opinions on the first amendment. I have not yet read the study, and only became aware of it from the most viewed images section on my yahoo. But looking at the graphic I am unsurprised by the finidings of the study.

Let's look at two lines of the graphic. "Newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories. Students: 51% yes; Teachers 80% yes; Principals 80% yes." Much shok and awe about students freely giving away their first amendment rights. And yet, the last line of the graphic, "Students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities. Students 58% yes; Teachers 39% yes; Principals 25% yes." Why do students not much care about the first amendment? Perhaps because in their experience it doesn't mean all that much. And, as we see, extending the freedom of the press to student newspapers isn't something the faculty and staff at schools finds particularly important either.

The headline could very easily read, "Teachers and Principals Gleefully Trample Students' Rights." But that headline would be nonsense. Teachers and principals want children to take their rights seriously. They also realize, however, that if students were allowed to publish newspapers free of faculty approval, something quite inappropriate (or worse) would be printed. And perhaps that would be a good lesson for the students, except for the fact that when the shit hits the fan, the kids aren't going to be only ones who face the consequences. Principals and teachers would confront very real threats to their livelihood even though they had no control over the publication in question. For in the eyes of parents, their children are innocent. It's not a new phenomenon.

These students will probably grow into adults whose opinions on the first amendment fall in line with average adults today. It's just that right now they spend their lives (as all children have throughout the ages) being told what they can and cannot do. They lead very structured lives under near constant supervision. To me the lesson is one for adults. If you tell a person they have certain rights and then use your authority to abuse those rights, that person will start to view those rights as either unimportant or non-existent. Children do not need the ability to publish an unsupervised newspaper (that's what blogs are for!), but they would benefit from the example of the adults in their community guarding their liberty carefully. And in this case, as in so many others, responsibility for setting that example should fall on the parents, not the teachers.

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