HIGH SCHOOL ORGANIZING

High school organizing can be approached from two directions: high school students organizing themselves, and "outside" people trying to communicate with high school students and help them organize. The emphasis of this chapter will be the former, though ways of doing outreach to high schools to distribute materials and teach humane education will be suggested.

The three basic goals of a high school group are:

1. to make the students within the school aware of the issue;
2. to make the surrounding community equally aware; experience has shown that once people – especially students are made aware of the issue, they can generally be organized to get the facts to the people;
3. to mobilize students into action.

Developing strategies to achieve these goals requires careful evaluation of your local situation. Is there enough interest in the movement so that you can just work with the "already convinced" or will you first need to educate people? IS there enough time to do the groundwork necessary to build an effective school group, or would it be better to move ahead quickly with an as hoc committee of concerned individuals? Who will you need to reach and what kind of support with you need? As you answer these questions, you will find some suggestions in the following sections more useful to your own strategy than others.

The high school organizing issues tend to be either those which relate specifically to the school or those which pertain to community and beyond (e.g., dissection, school lunches, cruelty free products). Grievances high school students have are genuine. For the most part, they have few rights within the school. Dress regulations are decided for them, curricula are made by administrators and faculty, the school newspaper is censored by the advisor, speakers at assemblies are chosen by the administration. The constitutional rights that are supposedly assured for everyone in this country are not being protected for students. Students all over the country have challenged unfair teachers, overly stiff disciplinary measures, and other inequities.

Resources for becoming an activist
Dealing with the School Administration

Public school administrators and staff want to maintain the appearance of objectivity. Most are reluctant to be associated with one or another side of a current political issue, which means that forums or debates are always preferred to speakers who espouse one particular viewpoint.

School decision-making is governed by a near religious reverence for the "proper channels." That normal line of authority is – from the bottom up – teacher, department head, principal, superintendent school committee. Community groups seeking approval for an activity can be stalled, often interminably simply for not going through channels. Although the process is painfully slow, it can also serve upon occasion as a means of gathering allies. It is important to understand the special place the principal has in this picture.

Principals feel personally responsible for what happen sin their schools. Organizers would recognize this and avoid any unnecessary non-issue-related alienation of these central figures. If possible, sit down with the principle and talk to her or him about your aims and planned projects. Stress the fact that you want to deal honestly and openly. Although administrators must remain neutral, yards or bureaucratic red tape will magically fall away if you have a good relationship with them. Clear all advertisements with them and ask permission for all activities that are to be held on school grounds. Teachers are often more amenable to the request of a group if they know that the group’s activities have the OK of the principal. In general, the administration doesn’t like to be surprised, so everything will move more smoothly if it’s kept on top of the table.

If administrators are not sympathetic, or are feeling pressure from above, they may tell you certain acts are not permitted within in fact you do have a legal right to do them. Leafleting outside the school, or wearing armbands or buttons in school may fall in this category. Consult your local civil liberties group – ask if they have a pamphlet on students’ rights.

Getting People Together

When it comes to getting people interested and involved with your efforts, high school organizers have a big advantage: the people they want to reach are confined to a relatively small area, the school building, for a long period of time each weekday. This makes advertising much easier (e.g., fewer posters are needed to reach 1000 students than to reach 1000 members of the general public). On the other hand, students are constantly bombarded by announcements and posters, and many ignore ads totally. Therefore it will help your campaign if your advertisement approach is fresh, innovative, and unusual.

For many actions within your school, it’s wise to aim for the endorsement and active support of students already accepted by other students as leaders. IF the student body president and the school paper editor can be persuaded to endorse your actions, they can be powerful allies. When just beginning to organize, it is sometimes useful to keep the politics of the organizing body general rather than specific in order to attract the most people. Invite leaders of all student clubs and organizations to strategy meetings to get as many viewpoints as possible, and then of course to get them to press their constituencies into action.

Suggestions for Advertising:
  • announce your first meeting as part of a letter to the editor of the school paper
  • ask your teachers for permission to stand up in class and announce the meeting
  • advertise with posters, short messages in daily bulletins, leave messages on lunch tables, place in each teacher’s mailbox with a note to read to the first class
  • get lists for you classes and call each member
  • get permission to stage a short, informal skit in the lunchroom and follow the skit with an announcement of the meeting
  • call local churches for the phone numbers of students in their youth groups
  • contact other local groups; they may get you in touch with students they know are organizing.
Outreach to Schools:

Non-student organizers trying to reach high school students will find schools are tightly controlled and guarded institutions. Some creative thought must be given to informing, educating and organizing students.

The best vehicle of entry into a school is the students themselves. It has long been established that students cannot be prevented from distributing flyers, collecting signatures, or posting signs in school so long as it does not interfere with the educational process. Non-students do no have such freedom to use school facilities to disseminate information.

Another avenue of approach can be through sympathetic teachers, who have a great deal of autonomy over events in their classrooms and can invite guest speakers who fit into the class curriculum. In addition, a group of 8 to 12 volunteers can effectively leaflet students on their way to school in the morning (better than leafleting after school). Leafleting must be done off school grounds. Also, leafleting at school events such as sport activities or cultural programs is effective as well. Consider approaching school clubs. Forums or debates before large groups of students are good ways to attract potential activists, however securing approval and making all the preparations will usually take six to eight weeks.

Show politically appropriate movies at the school; have a rally after school or during lunch period and invite musicians, jugglers, et al., to attract attention; make a political skit part of the annual variety show; place an ad in you school paper; take an unbiased survey and issue a press release with the tabulated results.

Each opportunity for contact with students would be used to attract others into subsequent activities. Therefore any materials distributed should include some mechanism, such as a coupon or phone number, through which students may indicate further interest or address questions.

You Can Do It!
Student groups sometimes have to spend a great deal of time initially struggling over issues that preoccupy them, such as securing the right for students to pass out flyers on school grounds. Don't let this get you down!

For some ideas about ideas your school group can work on, check out our Student Projects section! Contact IDA at (415) 388-9641 or ida@idausa.org if you have any questions or want help with your project!

This chapter draws heavily form an article by Alan Brickman in Peacework (February 1981) and the Stanford Against Conscription "A Guide to Organizing an Anti-Draft Group in your High School."


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