New Constitution Day Survey:

Most high school students haven’t heard of Constitution Day, the day they are supposed to learn about the Constitution and the First Amendment

Miami, Fla. — Three years after a new federal law took effect requiring schools to educate all students about the Constitution and the First Amendment, a new survey shows that a majority of America’s students aren’t even aware that Constitution Day exists.

This year’s “Future of the First Amendment” follow-up survey, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and done by the University of Connecticut’s David Yalof and Ken Dautrich, revealed these key findings:

  1. More than half of all high school students say they have not heard of Constitution Day, mandated by federal law since 2004 to be the day the Constitution is taught in schools. Just 1 in 10 remember how their high school celebrated the day last year.
  2.  Despite increases in the number of First Amendment classes from 2004 through 2006, nearly three-fourths of students still don’t know how they feel about the First Amendment, or take it for granted.
  3.  Students support individual free expression rights that directly affect or interest them; they’re less supportive of rights that are less relevant to their lives.
  4.  Parents, not teachers, have the greatest influence on students’ choice of news sources.
  5.  More students are turning to the Internet to find their news. Their definition of news isn’t much different than that of their parents.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-funded “Future of the First Amendment” surveys began in 2004, with the largest-ever survey of 100,000 high school students and their First Amendment attitudes. This year’s follow-up survey represents a smaller sample drawn from the original survey.

Constitution Day became federal law in December 2004 with the passage of an amendment introduced by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). The act mandates that all schools receiving federal funding teach about the Constitution every year on Sept. 17.

In a special Constitution Day statement, Sen. Byrd explained this year why the law is still needed:“To preserve the Constitution, we should not neglect our duty to educate our children and grandchildren about our nation’s founding document. I believe that an informed public is our best defense against tyranny. That is why I supported the law that made the 17th of September, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, special day. The Constitution is both the foundation and the guardian of our liberties. It must be studied with the knowledge that as strong and enduring as our Constitution has been, it is nevertheless a fragile, almost intangible thing that cannot survive without the dedication and constant support of our citizens.”

“This year’s survey shows that teaching the Constitution, like building Rome, is not something you can do in just one day,” said Eric Newton, Knight Foundation’s vice president of journalism programs. "We need to find ways to teach American civics so that every student knows our freedoms are what makes our nation the world’s engine of innovation. There are great resources available for teachers and parents who want to make that happen.”

For the full survey, go to www.firstamendmentfuture.org.

To help teachers and principals teach about the Constitution and the First Amendment, Knight Foundation and its partners provide free resources, including lesson plans, posters, student media assistance and quizzes.

  • Teachfirstamendment.org
    Offers a new batch of tips to educators for teaching about First Amendment issues.
    www.teachfirstamendment.org/
  • J-Ideas
    J-Ideas, dedicated to high school journalism and First Amendment awareness, offers a wealth of survey information, including a wide variety of reactions.
    www.jideas.org/
  • American Society of Newspaper Editors
    Scholastic journalism site for teen journalists, teachers and guidance counselors.
    www.highschooljournalism.org/
  • Radio and Television News Directors Foundation
    High school broadcast journalism site has info on Five Freedoms PSA contest, lesson plans.
    www.hsbj.org
  • Channel One Network
    The 1Voice project has First Amendment videos, online interactives and lesson plans, including “Five Things to Do on Constitution Day’’ by First Amendment scholar Sam Chaltain, in conjunction with key members of the Channel One News team.
    www.channelonenetwork.com
  • Bill of Rights Institute
    Offers Constitution Day resources for both publication and classroom use.
    www.billofrightsinstitute.org
  • Student Press Law Center
    Provides legal advice and information and low-cost educational materials for student journalists on various legal topics.
    www.splc.org
  • The First Amendment Center
    Works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education.
    http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org

The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms:  &ldqo;Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation invests in journalism excellence worldwide and in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Since 1950 the foundation has granted more than $300 million to advance quality journalism and freedom of expression. It focuses on projects with the potential to create transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.