Study Reveals Suburban High School Students Least Supportive of First Amendment

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By: E&P Staff

In a recent study of more than 112,000 high schools funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, researchers from the University of Connecticut found that a lack of awareness and appreciation for the First Amendment is most prevalent in suburban schools across the U.S.

According to the study, it mattered more where a student’s school was located within the state than in what state the student resided.

Urban students (86%) were more likely than suburban students (81%) or rural students (82%) to think that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions. In the same vein, urban and rural students (18%) were more likely than suburban students to agree that people should be allowed to burn the American flag as a form of political protest. Also, more urban students (73%) than suburban and rural students (68% each) favor the right to sing songs with potentially offensive lyrics.

Ironically, suburban high schools in all regions — while being the least tolerant of First Amendment issues — have more media-related resources. Eighty-two percent of suburban schools boast student newspapers, as compared with 68% of rural schools and 77% of urban schools. Urban students were more likely (19%) to say they have taken classes in high school that dealt mainly with journalism skills as compared with 23% of rural students and 22% of suburban students.

However, geography did play a small role. Further studies showed that student attitudes regarding the First Amendment could also be shaped by the perceptions of journalism as an industry. In the Northeast and Midwest, 65% of high schoolers said they trust that journalists are honest at least ?some? of the time, while only 60% of students in the South and West agreed.

This could partially explain why high school students in the South (36%) and West (37%) are more adamant in their beliefs that the First Amendment goes “too far.” In contrast, only 34% of students from the Northeast and 32% of high schoolers in the Midwest reported that opinion.

And while 11% of high school students from the West reported participating in student newspapers, only 8% of Northeastern students and 7% of Midwestern and Southern students said the same.

Similarly, more than six in 10 students from the Midwestern and Southern states show that they have taken classes dealing with the First Amendment, compared to 55% of Northeasterners and 48% of Westerners.

In this case, geography also plays a small part. Schools in so-called “blue states” (22%) are more likely than schools in “red states” (10%) to not offer any journalism instruction whatsoever.

These findings are available on the study’s Web site. Further studies will be produced over the next six months.

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