Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Just in Time

By Shawn Healy
Happy Constitution Day to one and all! With that greeting comes word of more apathy and ignorance amongst our young people when it comes to this precious document, and specifically the First Amendment's five freedoms. The Knight Foundation released its 2007 Follow-Up Survey on the Future of the First Amendment today.

It begins by suggesting that in spite of Senator Byrd's best efforts, Constitution Day is little more than an afterthought for most schools. More than half of high school students have never heard of the national holiday, and merely 1 in 10 recall how their school celebrated it last year despite a federal mandate.

More specific to the First Amendment, teachers claim their schools are making some (55%) or a lot (8%) of efforts to promote the five freedoms. Despite increased concentration on this subject in classrooms (68% of students have taken a class addressing the First Amendment), only 25% of students personally think about the First Amendment, with the remaining 75% suggesting they take it for granted (38%) or know nothing about it whatsoever (36%).

Once again, the study finds that students are more sensitive to First Amendment infringements when they impact their lives directly, such as songs with offensive lyrics and censorship of student publications. Students are more likely than their teachers and parents to claim that the First Amendment goes too far and are less likely to support newspaper publication without prior government review or flag burning as a political statement.

A couple of interesting findings surface in the second half of the study concerning student media use. Parents (43%) and peers (39%) are more influential than teachers (13%) in influencing students' choices of news sources. Internet use as a news source has increased significantly during the last year, from 31% who surfed the net for news daily or several times a week to 53%. The most popular forms of digital media for high schoolers are online videos (39% use several times a week), online discussions (28%), and posting online messages (23%). Blogs (17%) and use of mobile devices (15%) to access the news rate lower.

Here's hoping that this Constitution Day is a more memorable one for our nation's students, and in the process, they become more knowledgeable about the First Amendment and forward defenders of the freedoms it guarantees. Hope to see you tonight for the Constitution Day program in Chicago Heights.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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