Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Big Bother: Is A Lack Of Civics Education Undermining The Digital Revolution? 

From BoingBoing's Directory of Wonderful Things today comes this redirect to an AP article called "Freedom of What?, which summarizes a study that reveals that far too many US high school students don't seem to understand the meaning of free speech, aren't taught about the First Amendment, or simply don't care:
...When told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes "too far" in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories...

Three in four students said flag burning is illegal...

About half the students said the government can restrict any indecent material on the Internet.

As an educator, I 'm fascinated by several aspects of this issue.
  1. This dovetails with and confirms my own recent concerns that civics is, problematically, a dead issue in modern curricula.

  2. This seems to be consistent with more general observed truths about student mis-perception of government, most significantly that teens tend to set the government up as a straw man, an easy-to-dismiss but hard-to-solve Big Brother, to a much greater extent than is true, and even in places where it isn't. The results suggest, for example, that even while they flaunt current intellectual property laws, students may see the government (and not intellectual property developers and owners) as actively censoring the universe, and as the "them" to our "us".

  3. But note how many students believe that the 1st amendment goes too far. What's going on here?

Trying to reconcile this over-ascription of speech-stifling power to Big Government with the belief that the government should protect speech less may not be as contradictory as it first appears.

For example, we might posit that the rising generation of students is, on average, ultimately accepting of the false powers they simultanously ascribe to the government.

In other words, [some] US students may publically rail against the false powers they ascribe to government, but long-term internalization of such a projection may result in acceptance of those false powers, which would churn out a generation of impotent conservatives (who, due to their total lack of civics understanding, may be more conservative in the end than they claim to be when asked about their politics).

One situational definition of "culture" -- that which is known but is not taught -- may come into play here. It is a truism of Media Literacy, for example, that developing minds internalize messages without considering their stakes when such messages are delivered, exclusively, on a subtextual level. Certainly, if civics has become an intuitive process, the results shown herein are realistic, albeit unfortunate.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:00 PM |

I know, I almost shit my pants reading this article. Most disturbing to me is that it's KIDS who feel more and more comfortable with authoritarianism. I mean, adults are supposed to be the ones who want to control everything, kids the rebels and agitators. And yet 83% of kids polled think people should be able to express unpopular views, as opposed to nearly a hundred percent of their teachers and principals. This is really horrifying to me.What the hell is going on with my generation?
Matt sez: "And yet 83% of kids polled think people should be able to express unpopular views, as opposed to nearly a hundred percent of their teachers and principals. This is really horrifying to me. What the hell is going on with my generation?"

As a conservative, I have an answer to this, Matt, but it's not one people like to hear.

What I believe is changing is that schools, and the culture at large, are actually educating kids to believe that there are indeed some kinds of views which are not at all acceptable to hold -- regardless of whether students happen to hold those views or not. Most, if not all, of this springs from the way we handle the diversity/multicultural curriculum, whether we're talking about an explicit curriculum or merely just the standards for acceptability held by the culture and passed along to the rising generation through its primary socializing tools a) the mass media, and b) schools.

For example, students in most schools I know of are being told through curriculum and socialization activities that it is no longer acceptable to believe that homosexuality is "wrong," that there are some genuine differences in how people of different cultures and races are, and that . I am reasonably confident that at least some of the 17% of students who seem to be saying that it is not acceptable to hold unpopular views may be thinking of such "unpolitically correct" veiws when answering the question.

And we're the ones who taught them that such views were not okay to hold in general, because we told them that they themselves could not hold those views merely by showing them that those views were, according to the school and the culture, "wrong" -- and then acting to change the way they thought via a kind of forced moral education.

What we're looking at in these statistics, then, is the sad result of the commodification and institutionalization of the new liberal agenda. The fact that academia is generally liberal in their beliefs about how the world should work -- by definition, most academics believe in freedom of ideas -- is ironic here, as the very commodification of even the most liberal agenda is still, ultimately, a move towards conservation of those ideas (i.e. it is conservative).

Unfortunately, as the statistics show, teachers and principals are entirely unaware that their diversity curriculum has shifted to an underlying position that it is not at all allowable to believe in some unpopular ideas.

That's the true trade-off of true freedom of speech and thought, it turns out. Tolerance never had these problems -- it is perfectly consistent to believe one thing immoral but also believe that it is socially inacceptable to push an agenda which makes such subjective "immorality" wrong to practice in social and/or private spaces. But one cannot transcend tolerance, supplanting it with celebration, without pushing an agenda which contains a clear implication that it is not acceptable to believe in the traditional tenets of the neoconservative.

At heart, I think, we can see the recent split in the country at large as related to this particular issue. All schools have moved beyond tolerance, and dangerously so...but different local school systems and cultures use different lists of what is inacceptable, making it impossible to have true dialogue between factions in the US.
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