Where students are learning about free speech: Study

By Anne Collier

Not so much in school. But I’ll get to that in a minute. In its fourth report on the future of the First Amendment since 2004, the Knight Foundation found that “social media are good for the [US] Constitution.” The study, which surveyed more than 12,000 high school students and 900 teachers, found that 91% of students who use social networking to get news and information on a daily basis believe people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, compared to 82% of monthly users, and 77% of those who never use social media. “Students using their cell phones to text, tweet, blog and google are finding out more about the world – like this year’s Arab Spring – as well as the connection between social media and freedom,” according to the Knight Foundation. “This year’s First Amendment survey also shows students’ use of digital media for news and information is growing. Since 2006, it has doubled, with three-quarters of the students getting news from social media several times a week.” In other findings, 61% of students and 35% of teachers believe “high school students should be allowed to report controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities.” Nearly half (49%) of high school teachers believe social media are harmful to education, a collaborator on the study, Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation told my ConnectSafely co-director in an audio interview for CNET. And yet, Newton reported in his blog about the study, teachers “think there needs to be a lot more digital media literacy education in schools.” He goes on to write that “fewer students say they get First Amendment instruction in school than they did in our last survey. And only 30% of the teachers say they are teaching it,” even though 86% say it’s “very important” that schools teach it. In its coverage Fast Company reports that, “alarmingly, 26% of American high school teachers believe that websites should not be allowed to publish freely without some sort of ‘government approval’.”

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