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Terrace students more aware of rights than American adults

March 26, 2015

The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms to the people of the United States: freedom of and from religion, and the rights to free speech, press, assembly and petition.

So, after receiving the First Amendment Press Freedom award (FAPFA) for the past two years (the fifth time overall), MTHS students’ knowledge of the First Amendment became a topic of interest on campus.

Do students at MTHS actually know as much as one might think about the First Amendment?

As a matter of context, according to the State of the First Amendment, a survey conducted by the Freedom Forum, which surveyed hundreds of adults across the United States, 29 percent of Americans surveyed couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

After administering a survey based on the State of the First Amendment to students at MTHS, the Hawkeye found that a greater percentage of students here could recite each of the five freedoms of the First Amendment than the adults surveyed by the Freedom Forum.

Compared to the Freedom Forum’s survey in which 68 percent of people could cite freedom of speech, 79 percent of MTHS students could accurately name the same freedom. An even greater gap appears between Hawks’ and national respondents’ knowledge of the freedom of religion, at 54 and 29 percent, respectively.

The Bill of Rights – including the First Amendment – was added to the constitution in part to ensure that citizens could express their dissatisfaction with the government and keep public officials in check, especially through the press.

“The founding fathers understood the importance that for a free society, you must have a well informed populace and the only way to have a well informed populace is to have a free press,” broadcast journalism instructor and HBN adviser Angelo Comeaux said.

This mentality has persisted throughout the history of the United States and remains important to students today. Although just 14 percent of adults surveyed could name the freedom of press, MTHS survey respondents more than doubled that at 38 percent.

While religion, press and speech might be more recognizable to the general public, the right to assemble and petition the government are equally important.

While one fourth of MTHS students were able to identify the right to assemble, it may seem shocking that just 7 percent of people surveyed by the Freedom Forum were also able to do so.

The freedom to petition the government was the First Amendment right that the fewest number of respondents could name. The Hawkeye’s survey revealed that 12 percent of MTHS students were able to recall the right to petition, compared to a mere 1 percent of respondents from the Freedom Forum survey.

Overall, fewer MTHS students were unable to name any of the five freedoms than their adult counterparts. Compared to the 29 percent of American adults surveyed by the Freedom Forum, just 21 percent of MTHS students failed to name any.

The Hawkeye also used questions similar to those of another student survey regarding the First Amendment administered by the Knight Foundation, an organization whose goal is to “preserve the best aspects of journalism and use innovation to expand the impact of information in the digital age.”

Although some may believe that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees, this is not true for a majority of MTHS students or a majority of adults and students throughout the country.

The surveys revealed that 74 percent of MTHS students and 53 percent of students nationwide believe that the First Amendment does not go too far. The Freedom Forum asked a similar question, in which 67 percent of adults didn’t think so, either.

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First Amendment Press Freedom Award

Not only do students at MTHS know more about the First Amendment, they also exercise those rights on a daily basis.

As stated previously, MTHS has received the FAPFA, sponsored by the Journalism Education Association (JEA), National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) and Quill and Scroll Society, for the past two years and was also a charter recipient in 2000.

According to the JEA website, this award is given to “schools that actively support and honor the First Amendment through their student media.”

The MTHS student publications, including the Hawkeye, the Hawkeye online, Tempo yearbook and Hawk Broadcasting Network (HBN), are truly student-run publications, led by student editors, directors and producers in charge of content and publishing as opposed to teachers or administrators.

“[HBN is] a First Amendment class so I, as an instructor, advise and the students decide. That is one of the principles of the class. I give them advice, I give them instruction, but they make the final decision of what goes in [the announcements],” Comeaux said.

Directly correlating with MTHS’s practices of student press rights is the belief that students should have the same freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights as adults. This is a belief held by 92 percent of the student body, which is significantly higher than the 75 percent of adults who feel the same way.

“It’s interesting at schools how much we teach the First Amendment, but at times how it doesn’t apply,” history and civics teacher George Dremousis said. “I always like to see, as we go from generation to generation, just how much further the First Amendment does apply to public schools.”

Compared to adults and students throughout the country, a higher percentage of MTHS students think that student newspapers at public schools should be allowed to report on controversial issues without the approval of school authorities. While 78 percent of MTHS students at least mildly agree with this statement, only 68 percent of adults and 61 percent of high school students across the country agree.

Student publications at MTHS reflect these beliefs, as there is no prior review, meaning that administrators do not preview content, nor do they censor student media or decide what can and cannot be published. This has been the tradition at Terrace since the school opened in the fall of 1960.

“I think it goes back to [Principal Greg] Schwab and [journalism teachers] really valuing the students’ thoughts more than pushing their own personal agenda. I think if you go to some school districts around America, it’s a principal and a journalism adviser pushing a specific agenda through the paper,” Dremousis said.

The views of MTHS students matched more closely with those of students across America when it came to students being allowed to express their opinions about teachers and administrators.

Some 63 percent of Hawks and 69 percent of other students believe that students should be guaranteed the freedom to do this without worrying about being punished by teachers or school administrators for what they say.

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Student media access

American adults and MTHS students have similar ideas of what it means to be a journalist. While there was no majority opinion in either survey on the qualifications to be a journalist, the largest minority of people in both the Hawkeye’s and the Freedom Forum’s surveys believe that creating news stories based on objective fact is what really makes someone a journalist.

Over the course of history, journalists have adapted to expanding technology and social media. Recent innovations in technology have allowed news to be more accessible to people of all different demographics across the country and the world, instantly. According to the Hawkeye’s survey results, 44 percent of MTHS students access the news at least once a day.

This frequent consumption of news happens across several different types of media. About 42 percent of students get a majority of their news from a video source, such as television. Similarly, 55 percent of adults reported getting their news from TV.

Another 40 percent of students and 33 percent of adults get a majority of their news from an online source, such as a website or social media. Of MTHS students who said they access a majority of their news online, 38 percent go to Twitter and another 29 percent go to Facebook most often for news updates.

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Other findings

Other findings from the Hawkeye’s survey suggest somewhat contradicting trends concerning MTHS students.

A slight majority of students surveyed believe that people shouldn’t be allowed to post videos or photographs online without permission from anyone, including the people depicted in them.

Also, a majority of students at MTHS and throughout the nation think that people shouldn’t be allowed to burn or deface the American flag as a political statement. While 67 percent of MTHS students believe, to some extent, that people should not have the freedom to practice this, 79 percent of students nationwide feel the same way.

In addition, 73 percent of MTHS students at least mildly agreed that a business providing wedding services to the public should be required to serve same-sex couples, even if the business owner objects to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, just 54 percent of students nationwide agreed to the same statement.

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