Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: High School Students 'Blah' about Free Speech

Monday, January 31, 2005

High School Students 'Blah' about Free Speech

Rear Window EthicsIn a shocking turn of events, it seems that a study released today found high school students to be generally apathetic. The study showed that many students believed government censorship of newspapers may not be so bad, and that flag burning should be illegal. Over 1/3 of students surveyed believed the First Amendment "goes too far" in the rights it guarantees.

This frightened and shocked me. Could it be that high school -- the traditional hotbed of anti-establishment, progressively-minded youth opinion -- is actually full of students who are more restrictive and conservative than their parents? Could the counter-culture rebellion that has defined America's youth for the last forty years or more, the same revolution that played a critical part in this nation's civil rights movements, be reversing its course?

My fears were somewhat quelled when I read on in the AP article that discussed the study's findings.

"When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did."

The key word here is "unpopular". Popularity, of course, is the currency upon which the entire social economy of high school is based. Unpopular views are, by nature, not held by the majority of the people. These are high schoolers we're talking about here. Unpopularity is social death in many more superficial cliques of teenagers.

This is why teenagers don't run the country. If they did, Paris Hilton would be President, social security and tax refunds would be doled out in the form of gift cards to the local shopping mall, and our national anthem would be this month's Kelly Clarkson single (but only until it fell far enough in the Billboard 50 to be replaced by the latest Usher track).

The real question here is when did popularity and affinity with peers become tangled up with views on our Constitution? Since when did the youth phase of "follow the leader" apply not only to the Regina Georges of the high school world, but also to the Parents Television Council? Since when did the age group that is supposed to follow one another in questioning authority decide that they should simply follow the authority instead?

Britney, do you have anything to say about this?

AP (via Fox News): Free Speech? High Schoolers Say, 'Whatever'