Distributed May 28, 2002
For Immediate Release

News Service Contact: Kate Bramson

Capitol Forum student survey results

Students worry about nuclear proliferation, environmental damage

High school students are concerned about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; about damage to the global environment; and that more Americans will die at the hands of terrorists, according to a Brown University survey of 2,225 high school students. The survey of students involved with the University-sponsored Capitol Forum program provides insight into what the next generation of voters believes is cause for concern on an international scale.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — At a time when discussions about international relations and foreign policy still focus on Sept. 11 and the effects of terrorism on the world, more high school students are concerned about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons than about other global problems. That’s according to a student survey released recently by Brown University’s Choices for the 21st Century Education Program.

Other top student concerns are damage to the global environment and a fear that more Americans will die at the hands of terrorists. The survey polled 2,225 high school students in six states who participated in a civics education program that culminated with debates by student representatives at their state capitols. Students were asked to select their top three concerns from a list of 14. The Capitol Forum program is one component of Brown’s Choices for the 21st Century Education Program.

The course material and survey for this fifth year of the Capitol Forum program were rewritten after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Students in past years were not asked whether they were concerned about Americans dying at the hands of terrorists.

Concerns about proliferation topped the list this year (51.1 percent) while placing a close second last year to the concerns about damage to the global environment. While one in three students this year (34.2 percent) identified the global environment as a top concern, one in two did so last year. One in three students (33.3 percent) this year also expressed concern about the newly listed threat on the survey about terrorist attacks against Americans.

“What I think is different this year is the level of interest on the part of students,” said Susan Graseck, director of the Choices Program at Brown’s Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies. “You had more of a sense at this year’s forums that students were participating in this as if their lives depended on it – because they do.”

Participating in this year’s Capitol Forum and survey were students in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Utah. National and statewide survey results are available on the Choices Web site, www.choices.edu/cf02ballot.html.

Graseck has also seen heightened interest on the part of teachers this year for the curricular materials Choices develops to promote critical discussion of international issues in secondary-level classrooms. Sales of Choices material have shot up almost 50 percent this year, she said, indicating that “teachers who are concerned about international issues are becoming much more active in their efforts to incorporate study of these issues into their curriculum.”

The national student survey results this year continue to show strong support for international cooperation, with 76.6 percent of students saying they support or strongly support the statement: “In today’s interconnected world, many serious problems can be addressed only through international cooperation.” At the same time, ambivalence toward the role of the United Nations also continues. Only two in five (40.6 percent) believe the United States should work to broaden the mandate of the United Nations and other international organizations, while one in four students (24.6 percent) was undecided on that issue.

Students were surveyed after participating in the Capitol Forum on America’s Future, a program that engages high school social studies students in discussion of our nation’s role in a changing international environment. Between March 22 and April 12, almost 500 student representatives deliberated on international issues at their state capitols and shared their concerns with state and Congressional leaders. Upon returning to their respective schools, the student representatives led discussions with their fellow classmates. The survey completed the students’ yearlong participation in the Capitol Forum program.

Teachers involved in the program report they have noticed an increased awareness of international issues among their students this year. At Normal Community High School in Normal, Illinois, for example, Kelly Keogh will be teaching four sections of his international relations elective each semester next year, up from three each semester this year and one each semester when he began the course in 1991.

“In past years, overwhelmingly, it was economics that seemed to be the one (issue) that governed most of the kids’ attention and how they saw the world,” he said. “But after 9/11, this semester, all they wanted to talk about (in class) was the security component. And I do think my students are, to a certain extent, somewhat indicative of the public as a whole.”