One of my favorite assignments to grade is the "Declaration of the Rights of Students" composed by my United States history students. This task is the culmination of a short unit on the Declaration of Independence and the document's impact on ideas associated with rebellion, resistance, and equity. These declarations let me peer into my students' minds to see what they value in education, what obstacles they experience, and structures that hold them back from being successful. Their responses accurately narrate site-specific issues and systemic institutional problems experienced by students across the country.
Below I have included a few of the responses constructed by my students. Each section was written by a different student; however, the sentiment and tone are consistent in each. Their desire to have space in which their voices, opinions, and emotions are valued flow through the text. This assignment assumes that there is a flaw in the educational system and allows youth to narrate their own experiences, concerns, and reforms.
After using this lesson the last couple of years, here is what works and what I have adapted:
A note on the resources used in the lesson:
Sample Student Responses
Statement of Relationship
When, in the course of scholastic events, it becomes necessary for AP students to dissolve the academic block which have chained them to an eternity of disappointment; and when it is necessary for us to assume the power we hold as intellectuals of the advance placement program at Mountain View; a school that continues to remove its funding for its advance placement program and moving the money to the athletic department, even though it is still under the watchful eye of higher power for not meeting the state of California’s academic requirement.
List of Grievances
After all this mistreatment, we have yet found a solution to all these grievances. However, some possible solutions include the right to speak our own thoughts and feelings without any risk of punishment, allow a day’s break between given assignments to get a chance to recuperate our mental health, for the teachers to be sympathetic when they assign tasks and become more specific on what to do in those tasks, and be lenient throughout the course of the difficult and more rigorous tasks. Receiving education is a necessity and he who averts the student to be successful without any sign of support towards that student, should be excluded from the education system and never be allowed to teach.
We, therefore, the representatives of the student body of __________ present these facts to whom it may concern. In the name and by the permission of all of our fellow students, we solemnly write and declare that the students at __________ to be free and independent. And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the student body, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Declaration of Independence Mini-Unit
Declaration of the Rights of Students Task
Write a "Declaration of the Rights of Students" where you evaluate your own learning environment and explain what right students deserve in our world today. What changes would you make? How would you define learning, testing, grading, punishments, rewards, etc? What does/should authority look like? What is the purpose of schooling and what happens when that purpose is not met? What role can youth play in reforming education?
Audience: School administration, teachers, and/or School Board