High-School Students Respect First Amendment More Than Their Elders Do—Especially Teachers



With speech codes chilling free expression on college campuses and Twitter warriors presiding haughtily over online speech, it seems a bit gloomy out there for fans of the First Amendment. But a new survey from the Knight Foundation finds teen support for free speech is high. For the first time in a decade, U.S. high-school students are more into the First Amendment than adults, and their appreciation for it goes up with their level of online media consumption. 

The national survey of 10,463 high-school students found 90 percent think "people should be able to express unpopular opinions" and only 24 percent think "the First Amendment goes too far" in guaranteeing free speech, free assembly, and freedom of religion. Asked the same question in a recent Newseum Institute study, 38 percent of American adults wanted less free expression.

"This marks a shift: 10 years ago students (35 percent) were more likely than adults (30 percent) to say that the First Amendment goes too far," the Knight Foundation notes. And in 2006, 45 percent of teens and only 23 percent of adults thought so. 

Millennial teens are now more likely than their teachers to support free expression also, particularly when it comes to school matters. Of the 588 teachers simultaneously surveyed by the Knight Foundation, the majority disagreed that First Amendment rights should apply to school activities. Fifty-seven percent of the teachers said student newspapers shouldn't report on controversial subject. And a whopping 67 percent said students shouldn't be allowed to express anti-teacher or school administrator sentiment on Facebook without penalty. 

Despite teachers' anti-free speech feelings, students who had a class explaining the First Amendment were more likely to support it than those who had not. Free speech support also grew with a student's digital media consumption. "The most supportive students of all are heavy digital media users who also have had a class explaining the First Amendment," said Eric Newton, senior adviser to the Knight Foundation's president. 

Digital media consumption is, unsurprisingly, huge among high-school students, with the number who read news online daily jumping from 31 percent in 2006 to 71 percent now. The proportion of students who consume digital content daily through a mobile device jumped from 8 percent to 62 percent. Other survey highlights: 

  • Less than one-third are "very concerned" about the privacy of information they post on the Internet (compared to 48 percent of adults), while 42 percent are "somewhat concerned" and 21 percent are "not too concerned". 
  • 83 percent of high-school students sgree that "people should be able to send online messages and make phone calls without government surveillance" 
  • 60 percent don't think the government should be allowed to spy on digital messages or phone calls even in the process of "identifying possible terrorists"

Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center and dean of Middle Tennessee State University's communication school, said the study "reminds us of the need to pro-actively teach what young people engaged in social media know intuitively: First Amendment freedoms are at the heart of the American experience." 

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  1. A lot of good news there. Would be interested to see how more specific questions were reponded to. WBC, KKK, etc. “Unpopular” is pretty vauge.

  2. Ya…but don’t we need a poll to tell us what millennials think about this?

    1. thank you ^^ THIS ^^

  3. This is unsurprising. The First Amendment is there to protect the weak from the powerful. Once these students grow up to become the teachers and administrators, I assume most of them will change their minds about the whole freedom thing.

    1. And the historical data that was reversed? How does that fit into your model?

    2. How is this unsurprising, if this is the first time youth have registered as polling higher % agreement with the First Am than adults?

  4. Meh, color me unconvinced. Sounds like one of those things people endorse rhetorically, but when push comes to shove, it turns out there’s distinct gap between their expressed support for free speech and their actual support. From an Economist/YouGov poll from 2011:

    Many Americans oppose giving the right of free speech to groups they find offensive: 38% say they favor a law to make hate speech illegal (it is currently illegal in many European countries). But nearly as many oppose such a law.

    Democrats favor such a law 49% to 27%; Republicans oppose it 40% to 31%. And when asked whether Americans have too much or too little freedom to speak freely, 52% of the public says they have just about the right amount of such freedom. Fewer than one in five say they have either too much or too little freedom.…..te-speech/

    So fewer than one in five people will come out and actually say they have too much freedom of speech, but two in five (the 38% figure) say there should be laws against hate speech? Note the obvious disconnect.

    1. OK, but then why do some people support, and others oppose, free speech even rhetorically? And why does a certain cohort as they age opine on this differently statistically than other cohorts did?

  5. I’m skeptical. In the abstract, sure, lots of people like free speech. But when you get a rubber-meets-the-road case like Citizens United — in my experience, at least — people don’t necessarily make the connection. It becomes a diatribe about how money isn’t speech, with seemingly no thought behind the practical implications of that statement. But YMMV.

    1. But then why do lots of other people oppose free speech in the abstract?

  6. Oh re, they support free expression more than their teachers – after all, its the *student’* expression that will be suppressed.

    Once they’ve grown up and get a little power – then ‘free expression’ is threatening *them* and needs to be clamped down on, for the greater good of course.

    1. No, this study says that this cohort has a different relationship to their elders on this matter than their elders did when they were that age.

  7. Speaking of the first amendment, today’s essay by Steyn is a hilarious must-read:

    “The Barbra Streisand Effect on Steroids”

    Afterwards Big Climate press agent Bob Ward (the BBC billed him as a climate scientist, but in fact he is “a PR guy”) accused me of “attempting to intimidate @MichaelEMann into silence”. In Bob Ward’s world, Mann suing people for seven-figure sums isn’t “intimidating”, but laughing at Mann on Twitter is.

    At one point Bob Ward accuses Steyn of violating the first amendment by making fun of Mann, resulting in Ken White of Popehat tweeting: “So, @ret_ward, I would like to congratulate you for writing the stupidest thing about the First Amendment I have read in 2014.” Given the circles Ken White runs in, this is impressive.

    I encourage everyone to read it and click on all the links. It had me chortling all through lunch.

    1. I watched that cluster fuck unfold yesterday. So amusing.

    2. Steyn is the shit

      1. Steyn and Gavin McInnis. Probably my two favorite writers in the world.

  8. Hmm, that kid looks like he needs a wedgie. For free speech.

    1. “Epi’s hate speech should be a hate crime!”

      1. Epi is living a hate crime. His LIFE is a hate crime. Against humanity.

        Is that not, at last, enough. Must we ask for more?

  9. ” 38 percent of American adults wanted less free expression.”

    I blame Kanye

    1. Stand up!


    Wow – shocker – the hack Kirsten Powers says the NFL doesn’t do enough to stop teh dumb-estic violence. Look at a SCOURGE! Why, here’s a woman – a differnet woman than Rice’s wife – who says she was abused and the NFL told her to pipe down! Seeeee??!!! What more evidence do you need!!!!??


    Can’t wait till my employer decides to get engaged in employees’ family affairs and government interaction. I’ll have job security for life!! SCORE!

    1. I actually like Kirsten Powers. She is hot and generally seems like a decent person.

      1. She’s a prog, but it doesn’t seem to have totally disabled her ability to think. She seems capable of stopping to reconsider her position when confronted with contradicting evidence. I wish more red and blue team talking heads were like her. Sadly she seems a distinct minority and gets shit flung at her from everywhere.

        1. pretty much this. She’s not afraid to question her talking points.

        2. I will admit she’s less- retarded than many, but – at the end of the day – she’s a fucking HACK. I despise her.

          1. if you despise Kristen Powers how do you feel about Rachel Maddow?

            1. I would fuck the first, kill the second. Is there a third option for marry?

  11. I linked this for the owls last night; the 9th circuit court doesn’t like A-1 either:

    “Court won’t reconsider school’s US flag shirt ban”…..762191.php

    1. Che shirts encouraged, I’m sure.

  12.…..and-syria/ 62% of Republicans say they would support troopsa on the ground against ISIS. DDDDOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!

    1. They want to send the troops into the da… well, you know.

  13. Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and dean of Middle Tennessee State University’s communication school

    I would be so fucking embarrassed to be introduced like this.

    1. MTSU is pretty thug. They NEED a communications school. Everyone would be speaking gibberish otherwise.

      1. Can you imagine having not only the haughty title of President: The Newseum…but also the illustrious position of Middle Tennessee State’s com program? The pressure to perform would crush anyone!

        1. dean…com program dean! Dammit! And I was so eloquent… 🙁

  14. I seem to be the only one here interested in why people have the opinions they do; in fact, many of the commenters here don’t even care what opinions others have (except for other commenters). But anyway, I’d be interested in exploring why this demographic shift in opinion has occurred. What factors make people more or less tolerant, not only of speech, but of anything?

  15. I think thats a first where the younger generation respected something that the elders dont.

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