Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic have been the traditional elements of a fundamental education. Recently, if the front pages of the newspapers are an accurate reflection of the menu on many campuses, rant and rage have been added to the three r’s to make five. It’s clear that elemental civics should be added as well.
The First Amendment, the crown jewel of the Bill of Rights and the right that protects all other rights, is under siege nearly everywhere, and nowhere more than on the campus. Administrators, professors and students are growing ever more hostile to that most foundational of freedoms. There’s new data to demonstrate the depth of the hostility.
The Brookings Institution commissioned a survey of college students in 49 states and the District of Columbia — and how it has become chic and hip to question and snipe at free speech emerges clearly in the findings.
Forty-four percent of those surveyed believe, incorrectly, that “hate speech,” as flexible a term as there may, is not protected by the First Amendment. The surveyors posed this question: “A student group opposed to the speaker disrupts the speech by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable? Fifty-one percent approved of this heckler’s veto.”
It gets worse: 19 percent of respondents agreed that it was “acceptable” for such a student group to “use violence to prevent the speaker from speaking.” That’s almost 1 in 5 students. Democratic students were more likely to take this radical position than Republican students.
“Among many current college students,” Brookings says, summing up the conclusions of the survey, “there is a significant divergence between the actual and perceived scope of First Amendment freedoms. More specifically, with respect to the questions explored, many students have an overly narrow view of the extent of freedom of expression.” Many students express a narrow view of freedom of speech, and it speaks poorly of the future that freedom of speech, of all the rights, is becoming a partisan issue, like tax reform or health care. The fundamental freedoms, and nothing is as fundamental as the right to say what you think without fear, are freedoms that all Americans should embrace.
Other surveys suggest that students usually arrive on campus with a lack of understanding of their rights. This suggests that the problem lies in their elementary and high schools and in the culture. This is a problem that must be fixed, and the lack of education in the nation’s schools is the place to start.