Tuesday, February 08, 2005



Apparently, American high school students are too busy buying drugs and watching The O.C. to even understand their basic rights, which is both frightening and disturbing, especially since they are the ones who will probably be on the front lines should President Bush's long-term plan to take out the Axis of Evil come to fruition.

A study conducted last spring for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation by the University of Connecticut found that nearly one-third of US high school students favor restrictions on the press. And 36% believe that news organizations should receive government clearance before running stories (this from the story I read at Insight.com).

Among its findings:

• Nearly three-fourths of high school students either do not know how they feel about the First Amendment or admit they take it for granted.
• Seventy-five percent erroneously think flag burning is illegal.
• Half believe the government can censor the Internet.
• More than a third think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.

Principals and teachers were also surveyed. (Scary, no?)

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Director Hodding Carter III (you may recall him from the Jimmy Carter Administration), described these results as "dangerous."

One thing that both conservatives and liberals can generally agree on is that you lose freedom if you don't use it. That's why Carter III is correct when he describes these results as "dangerous." Between parents and faculty, the result is that three-quarters of American high schoolers believe that flag-burning is illegal. Now, they're welcome to believe it's wrong, but a lot of things that are wrong are still legal. (For instance, property tax.)

These results are understandable, however, in the Big Lie mentality that drives political life today. The current administration seems to make a habit of repeating the same untruth until it becomes "common knowledge." That's why so many Americans believe al Qaeda was in cahoots with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. That was the purpose of the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Lincoln behind President Bush. Heck, that's the purpose of all political spin, on both sides of the aisle.

(Oh, and does anybody remember who invented the Big Lie?)

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation intends these results to be used to increase the number of high school classrooms that include journalism (or "communications") in their curriculum. Understanding journalism is certainly a useful thing. I know a fellow who freelances for CNN and who teaches at Pacific Lutheran University. He is active in the business today, and he tells me that the trend these days (besides hiring airheads in blonde wigs to read the news) is reporting from a specific point of view. That is so wrong I won't even joke about it. It's one thing to do some investigative journalism; it's another to craft stories so that they reflect political opinion. And yet, there's Fox News, the alleged "balance" to "liberal" news.

How to put this in analogy, for those of you who don't understand what journalism should be? How about reporting on a fire? An objective reporter finds out where it was, what kind of structure it was, whether the structure was occupied by people, whether they were injured or killed, whether it was suspicious. An investigative journalist might ask if the fire department got there on time, had the proper equipment, or used the correct techniques. One of these Fox News types would blame it on Ted Kennedy.

Years ago, tests to determine suitability to vote were thrown out because racist scumbuckets in the South skewed them to keep blacks from voting. I now believe that was a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Our Constitution needs to be revised so that rights are not conferred on a person simply for being lucky enough to have been born in the United States. I contend that citizenship for people born in this country should only be made final upon completion of the same test we give foreigners applying for citizenship. If some high school dropout is home watching American Idol and telephoning her girlfriend to discuss what color to paint her fingernails, perhaps this is not the type of person who should be voting for president, especially if she doesn't know the difference between the Bill of Rights and the Articles of Confederation.

If that's not practical, how about at least requiring a high school diploma before you can register to vote? (Or drive, but that's another rant.) The problem with that is you would also need to have a high school diploma that means something, and there are so many opponents to that one final high school test (whatever it's called in your district) -- including my spouse -- that the distinction would be meaningless.

But, really, is it wrong to forbid anyone to vote if he or she doesn't know why we had to remember the Maine? Or who Lewis & Clark were? Or why Teddy Roosevelt wanted to bust the trusts (and what a trust is, anyway)? Sadly, I fear that the Bobby Hill character on King of the Hill isn't the only creature on this continent who believes that Jed Bartlet is a real president.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the government can censor the Internet. In which case, after he's confirmed later today, Michael Chertoff can just press a button and delete this.


Jim Chadwick said...

It's hard for me to disagree with your outrage. I have similar thoughts along the lines of parenthood. I sometimes think that people who want to reproduce should be subjected to the same rigorous qualification process as people who adopt. It's just a pipe dream of course; the totalitarian nature of such a law would horrify me more than the ongoing consequences of not having one in place already.

But I think you go a little too far. I think there is a considerable distinction between what I would could "willful ingnorance" and just plain not being smart. I was a pretty awful student of history myself through grade school and high school, barely passing sometimes and probably unable to recall more than just the rudimentary facts I was taught. Yet once I got to college (something which you might question my qualifications for given what I just told you), I had a passionate awakening for history that has lasted my entire life. I can only conclude from this that something was wrong with the way history was being taught to me at the earlier levels. In grade school and high school, I found it dull and monotonous and too dependent on mere memorization of facts, something which not all of us have an apptitude for, myself included. In college, I moved from dry textbooks and teachers whose credentials for teaching the subject were probably questionable, to books that read like the great dramas these stories actually were, taught by professors who specialized in the subject and conveyed their passion for it. To make a long story short, had I never gone to college I probably wouldn't qualify for the right to vote based on your criteria.

Which doesn't mean I wasn't a thoughtful, concerned citizen with a basic understanding of the principals on which the country was founded. My father had a sixth grade education, was fairly conservative in his views, but had an innate understanding of justice and right and wrong. (I can't say he was someone who defended ALL free speech, but he accepted that it was a sacred right on which this country was founded.) What discourages me today is not that people who pass through our current education system know so little about our the factual history of our country and the principals on which our government was founded (you can go back 30 years and probably find similarly disturbing statistics) but the dominance of what I refer to as the "lout culture." That's the prevailing attitude that says I am stupid and proud of it, that a thing is true simply because I prefer it to be true, and that my uninformed opinion on any subject has just the same weight as the person who is vastly more educated about it than I am. I was always taught that it was better to be educated than uneducated and I understood that people who were more intelligent than I was were the kind of people I should emulate, not elitist eggheads who should be condemned because they dared to challenge the belief systems of my family and friends.

Jim Chadwick said...

Does "willful ingnorance" include not being able to spell "ignorance?" (See my error in my first paragraph.) What was it you said the other day about bloggers (and their commentators) needing editors?