High school students who tweet, Tumble and Facebook more strongly support First Amendment principles than their peers, a new study said. The 2011 Future of the First Amendment Study, commissioned by the Knight Foundation, surveyed 12,090 high school students and 900 of their teachers to examine the connections between their social media use and their attitudes toward the First Amendment.
The study was presented at the Newseum Thursday, which also marked the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
By requesting students’ GPAs, the study also controlled for the purported intelligence of those surveyed, Kenneth Dautrich, the study’s director, said. Frequent social media users with both high and low GPAs were more engaged with First Amendment principles than their non-tweeting colleagues.
More students than ever are using digital media to gain access to news and information, the study found. However, educators – who use social media much less frequently than their students – are skeptical of how useful social media could be in the classroom as a teaching tool. Nearly half of the teachers said social media usage has harmed student learning in general.
Additionally, most teachers don’t support free expression for students. Just over a thirdagree with students’ right to independently report controversial topics in their campus newspapers. In a separate survey question, a third agree with students’ right to criticize school officials and teachers on social networks without repercussions.
In the 1988 Hazelwood case, the Supreme Court gave high school officials greater authority to censor student publications but said they need a reasonable education justification to do so.
Mark Goodman, Kent State University journalism professor, said teachers have an important role in cultivating students’ free expression, not censoring them. Goodman said it is important for students to learn how to express themselves responsibly while they’re still in high school.
“The day they graduate from high school, that’s the world they live in,” he said.
The study chose a random and representative sample of 50 schools from a pool of 300 used in previous studies. Thirty-four schools agreed to participate. All students and teachers in these schools took the survey. The study had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point for students and 3.5 percentage points for teachers.
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