Ken Burns Classroom

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Overview: Perhaps no issue framed Eleanor Roosevelt’s later life than that of human rights. Beginning several years before Franklin Roosevelt’s death in 1945, the First Lady championed the cause of human rights worldwide. Nowhere was her commitment more evident than in her 1946 appointment by President Harry Truman as a delegate to the new United Nations (UN). As head of the Human Rights Commission, she was instrumental in creating the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which was approved unanimously by the UN in late 1948.

In this lesson, students analyze the impact of the Declaration and Eleanor Roosevelt’s influence through video clips from The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and online resources. They then develop technology-rich persuasive presentations in an effort to create a “Universal Declaration of Student Human Rights.”

Lesson Objectives:

The student will…

  • Recognize important issues related to the struggle to protect human rights historically and in current times.
  • Understand the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in protecting and advocating human rights in the United States and around the world.
  • Develop collaborative and persuasive strategies and apply them to communicate to various audiences.
  • Recognize the viewpoints of various groups and philosophies in the human rights debate.
  • Understand the difficulty involved in getting groups to agree to statements of fundamental rights.

Estimated Time for the Lesson: Four to five class periods. (Note: If time is an issue, some research aspects of the lesson may be assigned outside of class as homework.)  

Technology Assets Needed for the Lesson:

  • Computer(s) with Internet access (including speakers necessary to hear audio from the video clips related to the lesson); access to presentation resources (including Glogster, Prezi, or others). Tutorial sites for these resources are available in the web resources section of the lesson.

Lesson Procedure

Opening Activity

1. Begin the opening activity by drawing the following chart on the whiteboard, or projecting it on the screen with the classroom LCD projector:

Type of Right/Freedom Civil Rights Civil Liberties Human Rights
Definition of This Right/Freedom
Political/Social Examples
Possible Student



2. Ask students to fill in the blanks on the chart. If needed, discuss the difference between civil liberties and civil rights with students, or they can find information regarding what constitutes civil liberties and civil rights by going to the US page on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights at

3. While student answers may vary, they should include the following ideas:

Type of Right/Freedom Civil Rights Civil Liberties Human Rights
Definition of This Right/Freedom Includes “positive” actions by government for people Protection against “negative” actions of government Rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, or

any other status

Political/Social Examples Protecting the right to vote; right to equal employment, equal pay for equal work, equal housing, etc. Preventing government violation of freedom of speech, religion, press; right to keep and bear arms; due process of law (right

of counsel, etc.)

Equality before the law; freedom of expression; economic, social and cultural rights
Possible Student


Right to attend integrated, equal schools; right to equal educational opportunity without reference to gender, religion, or color Freedom of press rights for student publications, due process rights in school, right of student privacy Right to education regardless of social or economic status, no discrimination to school programs due to gender, sexual orientation,


4. Place students in pairs and have them develop answers to the following questions:

  • Where in American government are civil rights protected? Civil liberties? Human rights?
  • Why do you think people must be “protected” from government action?
  • Which are more important to you and your partner: civil rights, civil liberties, or human rights? Why do you feel that way?
  • Are any of these fundamental rights more in danger in the United States today? In the world? Which ones? Why?

5. Once students have completed the chart, move to Part 2 of the opening activity. Distribute copies of the three quotes on human rights (one from Eleanor Roosevelt, one from President Jimmy Carter, and one from President Ronald Reagan).

6. After giving students sufficient time to read the three quotes, lead the class in discussion comparing and contrasting the views of Mrs. Roosevelt, President Carter, and President Reagan on the importance of human rights. Divide students into pairs, and assign one quote to each group. Have them complete a five-word summary of their assigned quote. In class discussion, ask student pairs to share their five words and explain why they selected those words.

7. The teacher should also lead students in discussion of the following essential questions regarding the three quotes.

  • How does each of the three speakers attempt to equate the need for upholding human rights for ordinary citizens and implementing domestic policies?
  • What relationship do you see in the development of American history and culture to the struggle for human rights?
  • Ask students to grade the United States on its own human rights record over the course of its history. Remind students about our involvement over the years protecting other peoples from totalitarian dictatorships or oppressive regimes, but also remind them about our record in dealing with Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, and other ethnic groups. Once discussion on the opening activity has been completed, begin discussion on the main activity.

Main Activity: Developing a Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Students

Part 1: Analyzing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

1. Begin the first part of the activity by distributing the “Video Viewing Organizer” to each student and directing them to view the related clips and answer the questions.

2. At the conclusion of the Video Viewing Activity, lead students in a discussion of the following questions:

  • What influences do you see in Eleanor Roosevelt’s early life that led her to become an activist and reformer?
  • Why do you think becoming involved in rewarding activities such as volunteering helped Eleanor gain self-confidence?
  • How would you characterize Eleanor Roosevelt by the 1920s?
  • How did speaking in public help Eleanor “find her political voice”?
  • Why was Eleanor’s involvement in the United Nations so important to her?
  • Why was her involvement so important to the outcome of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
  • Explain why the challenge Eleanor saw in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is still a challenge for people today.

3. Next, read or project the following statement:

In late 1945, President Harry Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt to be a delegate at the first meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Because of her commitment to protect individual human rights, she was unanimously elected chair of a UN committee to draw up a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which subsequently was unanimously approved by the UN in 1948.

4. In this part of the activity, the class will analyze the United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and speculate as to the overall impact of the Declaration. In Part 2, students will use this information, as well as online research, to write a “Universal Declaration of Student Human Rights.”

5. Once students have read or heard the introduction, direct them to divide into pairs. Distribute copies of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” to each pair. (It can also be downloaded at

6. Give pairs a few minutes to look over the Declaration. As they review the document, have them create a chart similar to this example:

Social Rights Political Rights Economic Rights

7. As each pair reviews the Declaration, ask them to fill in the chart. Which of the articles protect social rights? Political rights? Economic rights? (Students should write the number of articles that fit the categories. Students may use the same article for more than one category.) Ask pairs why they arranged the articles as they did.

8. Conduct a class discussion using the following questions:

  • Review your chart. Which category had more articles? Why do you think that is so?
  • Do any of the articles mirror the US Bill of Rights? Which ones?
  • Which article protects cultural life, arts, and sciences? Speculate why the authors of the Declaration would want to include this article.
  • What emphasis did the authors of the Declaration place on the family and marriage? Is this emphasis warranted? Explain your viewpoint.
  • Review the Declaration. At the time the UN approved the Declaration, many minority groups in the United States, especially African Americans, were struggling to achieve many of the rights listed in the Declaration. Do you think the United States was in violation of the Declaration because of segregation? Why or why not?
  • Which of the rights listed in the Declaration are applicable to students? What evidence leads you to that conclusion?

Part 2: Creating a Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Students:

1. Ask students to discuss these questions/issues before introducing the second part of the activity:

  • Are there any limits on rights that they have?
  • Why are governments sometimes forced to limit freedoms and rights of individuals?
  • Are limits on rights unfair?

2. Next, divide the class into groups and distribute copies of the “Student Rights Research Organizer” and the “Project Announcement” handouts to each student and review.

3. Next, select one student from each group to be the spokesperson for the group’s interests. Distribute the “interest philosophy” cards, giving one card to each student in the group so that each “philosophy” is represented in each group.

4. Conducting the Convention:

Since student groups will be working independently in order to create their presentations, and different students in those groups will represent various points of view, it is likely that a discussion may become somewhat loud. It may be desirable to place some students in various parts of the classroom or out in the hall in order for groups to work.

5. Once student groups have been selected and interest philosophy cards distributed, allow student groups sufficient time to research their positions and develop their presentations, using the online resources provided in the lesson. Groups should select which technology platform they want to use, and develop the presentation using that platform. Online resources that can help students create presentations are included in the web-based resources section of the lesson.

6. When student groups have completed their presentations, assemble the class and have each group demonstrate their presentation to the whole class. Since presentations will be created in a web-based or online format, the teacher may also elect to post them or link to them on a school or class website.

7. Then, lead further discussion by the class as a whole regarding which rights might be most likely to be accepted by the entire class. If desired, the teacher may wish to continue the convention with the entire class voting on whether to accept or reject student rights by individual groups.

8. Debriefing: At the conclusion of the lesson, conduct a debriefing session in which students review and analyze what they learned in the lesson by discussing the following questions (the teacher may wish to add other questions as well):

  • Reflecting on what your philosophy (position card) stated about your viewpoint, do you feel your view was well represented by your group’s completed presentation? Why or why not?
  • Based on your research and study of the video clips and human rights in regard to the convention, are student rights significantly reduced in a school setting? Give examples of this. Are these limits necessary? Why or why not?
  • In a school setting, are “human rights” and “civil liberties” different? Explain your answer.
  • Review your responses about Eleanor Roosevelt in the Video Viewing Activity. What do you think her views on education are? Do you think she might be more in favor of student rights or school authority power, based on what you saw in the online resources and videos? Justify your answer.
  • Reflect on Mrs. Roosevelt’s activism and involvement in civil rights and human rights causes, based on what you saw in the Video Viewing Activity and in your research for your presentation. What do you think Eleanor Roosevelt’s view would be on the use of cell phones by students and the level of rights the convention chose to give to students? Justify your answer, and be prepared to respond to other students’ comments on this question.=

Evaluation Procedure:

At the conclusion of the colloquium, the teacher should evaluate student presentations and participation based on a suitable rubric. Teachers should also include answers to the “Video Viewing Organizer” and “Student Right Research Organizer” as part of the evaluation. An example rubric that can either be used “as is” or adapted for a particular class is included at the end of the lesson.

Extension Activities:

  • Ask students to research, compare, and contrast the careers of Eleanor Roosevelt with modern women in politics, involved in current human rights struggles, or popular causes. Students can write biographies, compare/contrast essays, or create presentations about these women’s lives and careers.
  • Ask students to further research Eleanor Roosevelt’s background and influence in American politics, especially during the Depression and World War II eras. Have students critique   Mrs.Roosevelt’s impact on American politics and world affairs while First Lady and after her husband’s term of office.
  • Ask students to research and write reports on other student rights issues or Supreme Court cases dealing with student rights or student human rights. (Sample cases to consider would include Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) (school segregation), Engel vs. Vitale (1962) (school prayer), Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) (student free speech), Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier (1988) (student free press), Board of Education of Westside Community Schools vs. Mergens (1990), Morse vs. Frederick (2007) (student free speech).) Students can write legal briefs about a selected case or write a critique of the decision.
  • Have students investigate current or historical attempts by the US government or by the United Nations to curtail or stop human rights violations in various parts of the world. Students can research terrorist activities or government-led attempts at genocide or “ethnic cleansing.”

Academic Standards:

This lesson meets the following standards:

Mid Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( benchmarks)

US History:

Standard 25: Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the US role in world affairs

Benchmark 6, Level 3: Understands the legacy of World War II (e.g., the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan during World War II, how military experiences fostered American identity and cross-cultural interaction, the purpose and organization of the United Nations)

Standard 26: Understands the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II United States

Benchmark 4, Level 4: Understands social, religious, cultural, and economic changes at the onset of the Cold War era (e.g., the causes and results of new governmental spending on educational programs, the expansion of suburbanization and the impact of the “crabgrass frontier,” the role of religion, the impact of the GI Bill on higher education, how the Cold War influenced the lives and roles of women, how artists and writers portrayed the effects of alienation on the individual and society after 1945)


Standard 22: Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding US foreign policy

Benchmark 5, Level 3: Knows various means used to attain the ends of US foreign policy (e.g., diplomacy; economic, military, and humanitarian aid; treaties; trade agreements; incentives; sanctions; military intervention; covert action)

Benchmark 7, Level 3: Knows the purposes and functions of major governmental international organizations (e.g., UN, NATO, OAS, World Court) and nongovernmental international organizations (e.g., International Red Cross, World Council of Churches, Amnesty International)

Benchmark 1, Level 4: Understands the significance of principal foreign policies and events in the United States’ relations with the world (e.g., Monroe Doctrine, World Wars I and II, formation of the United Nations, Marshall Plan, NATO, Korean and Vietnam Wars, end of the Cold War)

Benchmark 2, Level 4: Understands how and why the United States assumed the role of world leader after World War II and what its current leadership role is in the world

Benchmark 8, Level 4: Understands the influence of American constitutional values and principles on American foreign policy (e.g., a commitment to the self-determination of nations), and understands the tensions that might arise among American values, principles, and interests as the nation deals with the practical requirements of international politics (e.g., a commitment to human rights and the requirements of national security)

Benchmark 11, Standard 4: Understands the role of the United States in establishing and maintaining principal international organizations (e.g., UN, UNICEF, GATT, NATO, OAS, World Bank, International Monetary Fund)

Standard 23: Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations

Benchmark 2, Level 3: Understands the influence that American ideas about rights have had on other nations and international organizations (e.g., French Revolution; democracy movements in Eastern Europe, People’s Republic of China, Latin America, South Africa; United Nations Charter; Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

National Council for the Social Studies C3 (College, Career, and Civic Life) Standards


History: Dimension 2 (Change, Continuity, and Context)

D2.His.1.6-8: Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

D2.His.3.6-8: Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.

D2.His.1.9-12: Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.

D2.His.3.9-12: Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.

Dimension 2 (Perspectives)

D2.His.5.6-8: Explain how and why perspectives of people have changed over time.

D2.His.4.9-12: Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.

D2.His.7.9-12: Explain how the perspectives of people in the present shape interpretations of the past.

D2.His.8-9-12: Analyze how current interpretations of the past are limited by the extent to which available historical sources represent perspectives of people at the time.

Dimension 2 (Causation and Argumentation)

D2.His.14.6-8: Explain multiple causes and effects in events and developments in the past.

D2.His.15.9-12: Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.

Dimension 3 (Developing Claims and Using Evidence)

D3.3.6-8: Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources to support claims, noting evidentiary limitations.

D3.3.9-12: Identify evidence that draws information directly and substantively from multiple sources to detect inconsistencies in evidence in order to revise or strengthen claims.

D3.4.9-12 Refine claims and counterclaims attending to precision, significance, and knowledge

conveyed through the claim while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both. Dimension 4 (Communicating Conclusions)

D4.2.6-8: Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequence, examples, and details with relevant information and data, while acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of the explanations.

D4.3.9-12: Present adaptations of arguments and explanations that feature evocative ideas and perspectives on issues and topics to reach a range of audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, and maps) and digital technologies (e.g., Internet, social media, and digital documentary).

D4.6.9-12: Use disciplinary and interdisciplinary lenses to understand the characteristics and causes of local, regional, and global problems; instances of such problems in multiple contexts; and challenges and opportunities faced by those trying to address these problems over time and place.

Common Core State Standards Initiative (ELA Literacy):

Key Ideas and Details (Grades 9-10):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH 9-10.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (Grades 9-10):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.10: Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Key Ideas and Details (Grades 11-12):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (Grades 11-12):

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.8: Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9: Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources

About The Authors

Michael Hutchison

Michael Hutchison is the social studies department chair at Lincoln High School. Vincennes, Indiana. He has more than 35 years of classroom teaching experience, and has written lessons for several Ken Burns films, including The Civil War, Empire of the Air, Horatio’s Drive, Unforgivable Blackness, The War, Baseball, The Tenth Inning, Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. He is past president of the Indiana Computer Educators. In 2014, he was named winner of the Caleb Mills Indiana History Teacher of the Year Award by the Indiana Historical Society.

Handout: Human Rights Convention Rubric

Category Excellent (10-8) Good (7-5) Fair (4-3) Poor (2-1) Group Score
Research Organizers completed; group shows mastery of material. Organizers mostly completed; group shows general mastery of material. Approximatel y 50% of organizers completed; group shows some understanding of material. Less than half of organizers completed. Group shows lack of understanding of material.
Presentation (software) Group shows mastery of presentation software and completes a compelling, persuasive presentation. Group shows fair mastery of software; presentation is generally persuasive. Group demonstrates some mastery of software; lack of planning and persuasiveness in presentation. Group cannot effectively use software; presentation not completed or does not significantly demonstrate mastery of software.
Presentation (requirement) Group completely fulfills requirements in student handout. Group nearly completely fulfills requirements. Group generally fulfills requirements. Group does not fulfill requirement or fulfills less than 50% of requirement.
Other Criteria as Set by Teacher
Final Group Score

Handout: Quotes on Human Rights

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

“America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way round. Human rights invented America. The battle for human rights — at home and abroad — is far from over. We should never be surprised nor discouraged because the impact of our efforts has had, and will always have, varied results. Rather, we should take pride that the ideals which gave birth to our nation still inspire the hopes of oppressed people around the world. We have no cause for self-righteousness or complacency. But we have every reason to persevere, both within our own country and beyond our borders.

If we are to serve as a beacon for human rights, we must continue to perfect here at home the rights and values which we espouse around the world: A decent education for our children, adequate medical care for all Americans, an end to discrimination against minorities and women, a job for all those able to work, and freedom from injustice and religious intolerance.” (Jimmy Carter)

“It was 195 years ago this coming Monday, on December 15, 1791, that our forefathers put legal force behind their ideals when they ratified the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to our Constitution.

Our forefathers knew that they were writing the first lines of a new chapter in human history. Another page in that same chapter was written 38 years ago today when the General Assembly of the United States [United Nations] adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document, a triumph for the higher aspirations of mankind, is but words on paper unless we’re willing to act to see that it is taken seriously. We owe it to ourselves and to those who sacrificed so much for our liberty to keep America in the forefront of this battle. Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, once said, “Our defense is in the spirit which prized liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own front door.” (Ronald Reagan)


Handout: Video Viewing Organizer

Clip Description and Questions Answers to Video Clip Questions How Does This Help Me Understand Eleanor’s Development As an Activist and Reformer?
Clip #1: Eleanor’s Education
Why was Bamie Roosevelt considered Eleanor’s “salvation”?
What did Mademoiselle Souvestre insist of her students? What influence does the clip indicate she had on Eleanor directly?
How did Eleanor sum up her three years studying under Mademoiselle Souvestre? What long-term effects did her education have?
According to the clip, what was Eleanor miserable about? What did she believe she would be deprived of for the rest of her life?
Clip #2: Beginning of Eleanor’s Activism
According to the clip, what family disappointments and issues did Eleanor see as reasons for her to become more politically active?
According to the clip, what was Eleanor’s “salvation”? What did she do back in New York to become more involved?
Describe the new friends Eleanor makes. How does biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook describe the lifelong friends Eleanor makes? What impact do they have on her?
>What quote by Esther Lape is mentioned in the clip? What does the last sentence of the clip reveal about Eleanor?
Clip #3: Eleanor’s Political Emergence
According to the clip, who was Nancy Cook? What did she ask Eleanor to do? Why did FDR and Louis Howe insist she do it?
Why did FDR and Eleanor both see Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerson as important?
According to Geoffrey C. Ward, why was Louis Howe “as important to Eleanor Roosevelt as he had been to Franklin” Roosevelt?
Listen to the voice-over quote by Eleanor at the end of the clip. What does she say about her political involvement? How does this help her in her role as an activist and reformer?
Clip #4: Eleanor: UN Delegate and Human Rights Advocate
Geoffrey Ward calls Eleanor “a sort of miracle of the human spirit.” Why? What does this say about her interest in helping others?
What fellow delegates are mentioned in the clip? What view did they have of Eleanor? What views did Eleanor have of them?
Why does the clip say Mrs. Roosevelt’s task of leading a committee to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would not be easy? In what ways did she “run” the committee?
By what margin was the Declaration adopted? After the vote, what did the UN General Assembly do that was unique? What “challenge” about the Declaration does Mrs. Roosevelt mention in the clip?

Handout: Project Announcement

Congratulations! The United Nations has voted to create a Universal Declaration of Student Human Rights. You and your class have been selected to participate as delegates in a convention representing different points of view. You’ll work together to investigate the student human rights issue, and then develop a presentation using that explains your position and your suggestions for the Declaration.

Your class will be divided into groups that will focus on one of the following student human rights issues:

  • Student due process (this includes searching student possessions; locker searches; right to contest a suspension, expulsion, or other disciplinary action; other issues your group develops)
  • Student freedom of expression (this includes students’ freedom of speech and press; right to carry and use electronic devices such as cell phones; right to lobby in school; and other issues your group develops)
  • Inclusion of students in school governance (this includes the opportunity for students to help shape and determine school policies, sit on school boards and administrative councils, help in determining policies related to curriculum and teachers, and other issues your group develops)
  • Student civil rights (issues related to race and gender, such as whether one gender (male or female) should be allowed to participate in programs or sports traditionally reserved for the other gender, issues where students of one race or gender may receive preferential treatment over another, other issues your group develops)
  • Rights of nontraditional students

Members of your group will represent each of the following interests:

  • Student rights activists and student leaders
  • School administrators and school board officials
  • School safety personnel
  • Federal and state authorities charged with making school policy (examples, US Department of Education or state boards of education)
  • Parent group concerned with lack of student rights in school
  • Parent group concerned with school safety and discipline

You’ll receive a position card that will outline your interest’s philosophy and views.

Each group should work together to develop a statement of at least five “student human rights” to present to the entire convention for ratification. Remember, it’s your job to make sure your interest group’s viewpoints are maintained and protected.

Once your group has developed their list of five student human rights, the group will create a presentation highlighting their decisions, using Glogster or Prezi (or other format approved by the teacher). Then, the class will work as a group to review, change if necessary, and either ratify or reject individual right proposals. You will want to work collaboratively with your group and other groups, but you will want to advance the statement of rights you’ve developed as well.

Handout: Interest Philosophies (Position Cards)

Student Rights Activists and Student Leaders

As group members who support and advocate giving students as many rights as possible, you have been concerned about instances where student rights have been limited by the courts or by legislatures. You believe that student free speech is in jeopardy and that school administrators have been given too much free reign to search student possessions, cell phones, or, in some instances, students themselves. In your view, students should have as many civil rights and civil liberties as do their parents and people in the community. You feel that laws and regulations have not kept up with changing technology and lifestyles in the 21st century, and you strongly believe that cell phone use in a school setting is a necessity as well as a right. You also believe that student rights and academic freedoms are in grave danger, and you welcome the opportunity to meet in a public forum and advance and protect those rights.


School Administrators and School Board Officials

Your greatest concerns are school safety, ensuring student achievement, and protecting the integrity of the schools. Incidents of violence at schools across the nation and calls for expanding Second Amendment rights have convinced you that something must be done to limit or stop students from bringing weapons into schools. This includes implementing the use of metal detectors and allowing for random, unannounced searches of students and their possessions when necessary. In your view, cyberbullying and use of cell phones by students in schools are detrimental to the educational process, and you are determined to ensure you can take whatever steps are necessary to stop this. While you agree that students deserve some protection of human rights, you believe that unchecked freedom of expression, including freedom of student speech and press, is harmful to students’ lives, not to mention their education, and you believe in strict limits.


School Safety Personnel

You recognize the importance of ensuring that students be as safe in school as possible. Recent acts of school violence have shown that schools need to be proactive in regard to finding ways to keep weapons and drugs out of schools. Your position is that your job would be made much easier if you had more latitude to investigate school security threats, including spot-check searches of lockers, backpacks, and other student possessions. If possible, you would insist that all students enter school through metal detectors, or possibly be required to open backpacks to be inspected by school personnel. While you recognize the dangers of cyberbullying and want to restrict the use of cell phones in schools by students, you also believe that cell phones are a necessity in instances where students (or teachers) need to report possible school safety issues to authorities. Since students have generally unrestricted access to social media or the Internet, you also would like to have more authority to restrict instances of online criticism of students or school officials and teachers.


Federal and State Education Officials

Over the past several years, more and more federal and state legislation has been passed to demand increases in student achievement and test scores. The federal government has established a cabinet-level Department of Education, and has passed legislation such as “No Child Left Behind,” and “Race to the Top,” which places strict requirements on states and local districts to perform up to predetermined standards. In your view, while you agree that students have certain rights, overexpansion of those rights likely will make it more difficult or impossible for you to reach goals established by federal or state law. You believe in the view of some Supreme Court justices that the rights of students don’t always extend to the level of adult rights, and giving students too many rights will lead to chaos and disruption in schools, which will make it impossible to meet educational standards and legislatively imposed goals.


Parents Concerned with the Lack of Student Rights in School

As parents, you also want your children to be safe and be able to learn in a safe environment in school. However, you also believe that schools should be places for academic freedom, not run as jails or with TSA-like security in place on a daily basis. You also believe that curtailing or limiting student rights unduly limits academic freedom and the ability to learn, question, and challenge unfair laws and authority. In your viewpoint, students should be able to carry and use cell phones as needed as long as they do not unduly disrupt school proceedings. If students have and can use cell phones, they can notify authorities should an incident occur at school, or notify parents that they are safe or need help. Cell phones also allow parents to notify students about important things, such as upcoming medical or dental appointments, or family emergencies. You believe that, as a parent, you have educated your child to use technology effectively and responsibly, and that schools do not have a right to limit that use.


Parents Concerned with School Safety and Discipline

In your view, American schools underachieve. You have witnessed a decline in test scores and in student graduation rates, and you hold that much of this is due to permissiveness and lack of authority in schools. Your position is that court decisions and legislative rules have eroded the ability of schools to effectively teach, and to remove students who are threats to school safety or the effective running of the school. Rather than protect or increase student rights, you favor even more inclusive drug testing and student searching, limited technology use, and more school authority to discipline students who use social media to criticize schools or cyberbully classmates. You believe that schools operated effectively for years without allowing electronic devices or giving students increased rights, and they should be operated the same way now.

Handout: Student Rights Research Organizer

My “Interest Philosophy” (my “Position Card”):


Name of “Issue Group”:

What information on my position card do I especially want to emphasize?


Information in the video clips, opening activity, or Part 1 of the main activity that will help me:


Names and URLs of online research that fit my viewpoint and that I will use in the group discussion regarding student rights:


Information I find in my research that I need to stress about my interest view and what should be included in the group presentation about student human rights:


Our proposed Five Student Human Rights: