September 17, 2007

Constitution Day -- The Holiday Nobody Has Heard of.

The following item is from Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute.

I was stunned about how few of my 303 and 370 knew even three of the components of the First Amendment. Granted the money for public schools to educate students about the Constitution did not come in until many of these college students had graduated but still....

These are journalism students and should know the First Amendment inside out by their final years in college.

Screed aside, let's get to the reason for posting this.

Those of you who have freshman and sophomores might want to use this week to see just how many of your students know the basics of the Constitution -- especially the First Amendment.

It is too bad that Mason's Birthday (Dec. 5) and the ratification of the Bill of Rights (Dec. 15) are so close to finals. The convergence of those important days are what might be called "a learning opportunity" but by then the learning is supposed to be over for the term. :)

Anyway, look this over and weep.

Today is "Constitution Day."

By federal law, every school that receives federal funds are supposed to teach about Constitution Day and the Constitution. But a new Knight Foundation survey shows most kids are clueless about it. Pity, because the kids are not only clueless about Constitution Day, they are clueless about the Constitution. But then again, as you read the poll results, you will see their teachers and parents do not see the value of a free press or free speech either.

The survey found that one-third of the teachers surveyed strongly or mildly agreed with the statement, "The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees." Even more kids -- 45 percent -- agreed that the First Amendment goes too far.

Thirty percent of teachers and 30 percent of students agreed with the statement that "the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants."

Here are some of the results from high school students:

Based on your own feelings about the First Amendment, please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: The First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.

2004 2006
Strongly agree 12% 18%
Mildly agree 23% 27%
Mildly disagree 19% 16%
Strongly disagree 25% 21%
Don't Know 21% 19%

Overall, do you think the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, too little freedom to do what it wants, or is the amount of freedom the press has about right?

2004 2006
Too much freedom 32% 30%
Too little freedom 10% 11%
About right 37% 41%
Don't know 21% 18%

Take a look at these results from the high school faculty survey, which asked teachers to agree or disagree with the following statements:

Musicians should be allowed to sing songs with lyrics that others might find offensive.

2004 2006
Strongly agree 28% 35%
Mildly agree 30% 29%
Mildly disagree 19% 19%
Strongly disagree 21% 15%
Don't know 2% 2%

Newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of a story.

2004 2006
Strongly agree 53% 57%
Mildly agree 27% 22%
Mildly disagree 12% 13%
Strongly disagree 6% 7%
Don't know 2% 1%

High school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities.

2004 2006
Strongly agree 13% 13%
Mildly agree 26% 27%
Mildly disagree 27% 28%
Strongly disagree 33% 31%
Don't know 1% 1%

According to a press release from the Knight Foundation:

Three years after a new federal law took effect requiring schools to educate all students about the Constitution and the First Amendment, a majority -- 55 percent of U.S. students – aren’t even aware that Constitution Day exists.

Constitution Day was recognized for the first time in schools in 2005, shortly after the largest survey ever done of high school students, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Future of the First Amendment, showed that nearly three-fourths of them either did not know how they felt about the First Amendment or took it for granted.

Very few can name the five freedoms of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Constitution Day became federal law in December 2004 with the passage of an amendment introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). The act mandates that all schools receiving federal funding teach about the Constitution every year on Sept. 17.

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