Paul Jacob

First, the stab of an ominous headline: "First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say." Then the subhead twists the knife: "Study shows American teenagers indifferent to freedoms." In an impressively large survey, a good third of students said that the First Amendment "went too far" in its language, "too far" defending individual rights.

"Only half of the students," the AP story explained, "said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories."

This kind of thinking cuts to the heart of American freedom, cuts to the heart and kills. Apparently, many young people readying themselves for adulthood are also readying themselves to live under tyranny.

And maybe liking it.

So, where did the kids pick up these notions? In the classroom? On the streets?

Many places, perhaps. But let's consider just one source: Maybe the kids are picking this up directly from their government.

"Statecraft is soulcraft," George F. Will has argued. Whatever that may mean precisely, in general there's no doubt: by example and by rhetoric, government can't help but teach. Looked at one way, perhaps statecraft's sole craft is "education."

And don't think that the kids are too dense to pick up on it. My children are schooled at home, and I know how savvy kids can be. They will readily carry a principle to its logical conclusion long before the adults have learned the principle's most immediate and obvious effects. Where adults see a small reform, the kids see a system.

And in government today, the kids not unreasonably see little hint of freedom ? despite all the talk. Instead, they see deliberate government manipulation of the populace. They see government take the people's money and then tell the people what to do, as if no one could parent or eat without being told how by some authority. And then even more frightening, governments have begun regulating what the people may say about government itself.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.