Educators teach students about First Amendment in theory but not in practice, national survey shows

More than two-thirds of educators do not believe students at public high schools should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without approval of school authorities, according to a survey conducted by The Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

The release of the survey coincides with the launch of a multi-year partnership between the First Amendment Center and the ASCD that is designed to improve the way schools teach and model the rights and responsibilities of the First Amendment, according to a press release issued by the groups.

The results of the survey, which were released in March, were compiled by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. The center polled 1,802 public school teachers and administrators, asking them questions about how they teach students about their First Amendment rights both in and outside the classroom.

The researchers found that while educators believe they do a good job of teaching students about their First Amendment rights, they are not very willing to allow students to practice those rights while in school. In fact, in addition to the 71 percent of educators who do not think students should be allowed to write about controversial issues in the school paper without administrative approval, fewer than half of those surveyed support the rights of students to distribute political or religious materials at school.

The First Amendment Center and the ASCD hope their “First Amendment Schools” initiative will result in more willingness among educators to let students exercise their First Amendment rights while in school. The initiative’s objectives include creating guidelines for the application of the five freedoms of the First Amendment in schools, developing model schools where First Amendment principles are understood and applied, encouraging curriculum reforms that reinvigorate and deepen teaching about the First Amendment, and educating school leaders, teachers, school board attorneys and others in the meaning and significance of First Amendment principles and ideals.

“Educators need to be convinced that students can exercise their First Amendment rights with responsibility,” Gene Carter, executive director of ASCD, said in the press release. “They want students to learn about freedom but are concerned about how students practice freedom — especially in the school setting.”

SPLC SENSE: Depressing. Not wholly unexpected, but thoroughly depressing all the same. This “look but don