It’s not just crazy places like the University of California at Berkeley where surprisingly large numbers of U.S. college students believe that violence and shouting are acceptable methods to prevent people from saying things. Fifty-one percent of all U.S. college students believe shouting is an acceptable response to free speech, and one in five (19 percent) believe violence is an acceptable response, according to results from a national survey of 1,500 students in 49 states and DC.
Fifty-three percent of survey respondents said colleges should “create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people” rather than “create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people.”
The poll’s preliminary results were published by the left-leaning Brookings Institution this week while the full results undergo peer review for publishing in an academic journal. The polling took place in August 2017.
“Today’s college students are tomorrow’s attorneys, teachers, professors, policymakers, legislators, and judges,” writes study author John Villasenor, a professor of law, politics, and technology at the University of California at Los Angeles. “If, for example, a large fraction of college students believe, however incorrectly, that offensive speech is unprotected by the First Amendment, that view will inform the decisions they make as they move into positions of increasing authority later in their careers.”
Breaking Down the Poll Results
Men were far more likely than women to know basics about the First Amendment, the portion of the U.S. Constitution that explicitly protects free speech, but also far more likely to condone aggression in response to hearing things they don’t like. While Republican-identified students were generally more supportive of free speech than Democrat-identified students, they were still remarkably likely to support restrictions on free speech and violent responses to it.
See some of the breakdowns from the poll results below.
“[T]he fraction of students who view the use of violence as acceptable is extremely high,” Villasenor writes. “While percentages in the high teens and 20s are ‘low’ relative to what they could be, it’s important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning. The gender difference in the responses is also notable.”
A different poll last year found that, although 54 percent of college students think their peers don’t say what they really believe because others might find it offensive, on average they also think the vast majority of college students (71 percent) “respect free speech for all.”
As Catherine Rampell points out at the Washington Post, other research shows that students arrive on campus already inclined to shut down speech they don’t agree with. A study last year of 141,189 freshman at 200 public and private colleges around the country found even worse dispositions towards tolerance for politically incorrect or even just different views. The highest percentage on record — higher than even the Vietnam era — said they expected to participate in political protests while on campus, and 43 percent supported banning “extreme” speakers.
Seventy-one percent of these freshmen supported banning “racist” and “sexist” speech on campus. That might sound entirely reasonable until one considers that opinions of what comprises racism or sexism vary considerably, and some are outright ludicrous. A sampling of what some Americans think is racist: Saying “the Sooner State,” Oklahoma’s motto; saying “all lives matter“; wood paneling; having the name “Becky“; speaking positively about marriage; the Electoral College; being born with blonde hair; and not sending your kids to public school.
“One last freshman survey finding of interest,” Rampell writes about the 2016 survey: “The highest share of students since 1973 now consider themselves left of center. And the highest share of college freshmen ever (or at least since this question was first asked in 1970) call themselves ‘far left.'”
It’s not just First Amendment rights American students know little about. It’s almost every other major feature of American governance and history. Pick a survey, and they all show this to be true. For example, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute for several years surveyed Americans and college students with questions from national civics exams and the U.S. citizenship exam, finding abysmal things like less than half of Americans can name all three branches of government, two in five think the president can unilaterally declare war, and two-thirds don’t know the Constitution prohibits the United States from establishing a national religion.
Fifty-two percent of U.S. college graduates think “a wall of separation between church and state” is in the U.S. Constitution (it’s in a private letter from Thomas Jefferson). One in five college graduates “cannot name a single right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Until the Obama administration decided to stop administering national civics tests to fourth and twelfth graders, it was typically the test on which U.S. students performed most poorly. In 2010, the last time the test was given, “Less than half the eighth-graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights, and only 1 in 10 could pick a definition of the system of checks and balance.”
In short, Americans are deeply ignorant about the fundamental workings of their own country. This is an existential problem, because the United States is designed entirely unlike the traditional national designations formed by common ethnicity and history. America only works if its people know and cling to what America is about: certain core political ideas that transcend “blood and soil.” America’s political ideals are unique, and they, not race or geography or anything else, are what hold America together.
These political ideals include the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Obviously, respect for the free exchange of ideas and rights of others to hold differing opinions is not innate to humanity. It is one of the strange hallmarks of these United States, and it is clearly something that must be taught if it is to survive. We no longer do that. Some of the cause for that is lazy neglect from American parents and politicians; some is a deliberate program by those who hate America’s distinctive ideals so have co-opted its own institutions to slowly erase them.
The National Association of Scholars published earlier this year a landmark reportdetailing how the dominant schemes of what currently poses as “civic education” at U.S. colleges (which train America’s K-12 teachers) are utterly antithetical to American ideals. They are quite literally designed to train political activists to dismantle the United States rather than citizens loyal to making America the best version of itself for posterity. America’s kids are not randomly behaving like little Marxists. They are being trained to behave like little Marxists in programs that employ American tax dollars to destroy America.
The fact that so many Americans are merely transactional citizens rather than true heirs to the ideas that keep America alive is not just a sign but a root cause of our current social disintegration. If not soon reversed in a project of deliberate national restoration that must include ending our curricular monopolies prone to ideological capture, our failure as a society to require of our children and newcomers the knowledge of and adherence to the ideals that make America itself will mean the death of “the last best hope of earth.”