Learning Democracy's Bedrock

A recent survey shows an extraordinary number of high school students consider their constitutional right to freedom of speech to be excessive.

Some 100,000 students across the nation took part in the two-year, $1 million survey conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut for the respected John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. More than a third of the students felt the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, speech, the press, and the right of assembly went "too far."

And as if that response isn't disturbing enough - some 75 percent of the students either took the First Amendment for granted or had no opinion about it at all. About half the students surveyed thought the US government could actually censor the Internet; two-thirds thought it was illegal to burn the US flag.

The fact that just half the students in the study felt that newspapers should be allowed to publish stories without government approval is especially troubling.

Such errant responses signal, among other things, that more secondary-level schools should be teaching the fundamentals of a democratic society through better civics and government courses.

After all, the survey also brought out this salient point: that students who have a knowledge of the basic freedoms they possess as American citizens are much less likely to reject those freedoms.

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