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Sustenance of a student movement

pile of publications known as the high school papers
Like a subversive textbook, The High School Papers covered everything from student rights to safe sex to organizing for change. Photo: AFSC

 Young people looking for social change have, throughout AFSC’s history, turned to the Service Committee for support.

One of the first examples of AFSC’s defense of student rights was in 1960. In response to constitutionally mandated desegregation, authorities in Prince Edward County, Va., shut down the public school system. AFSC’s Emergency Placement Project organized host communities willing to welcome the county’s high school students into their homes and schools, allowing these students to continue their education. Much of the organization and work was accomplished with the active participation of the affected students.

A voice for youth

As students’ needs changed, AFSC responded with new ways of meeting those needs. Young people needed a means of expression and a forum where they could be heard and their opinions valued. At a 1967 national round-up meeting of all staff in the organization’s High School Program, Chair Beth Scheffer stated, “Public education has not fulfilled the expectations of many young people. ... The high school student today has no role; he is on the outside clamoring to have a voice.”

At that same meeting, AFSC’s Executive Secretary Colin Bell stated, “We must now expand every effort to relate ourselves to youth, or be lost. The best of youth today knows more of love than most adults; we have something to learn from them. Love does not make all things easy; it makes us choose that which is difficult.”

The High School Papers

In 1971, the Syracuse, N.Y., office developed a project involving high school students working on materials of interest to their peers. Initially their concept was to create a handbook on student rights, but it ended up as a kit called “The High School Papers,” filled with articles and information on student rights, alternatives to sexual abstinence, the potential dangers of drug usage, organizing for change, draft counseling, and methods of nonviolent protest.

Examples include: “Who Rules Your School,” “How to Take the Worry Out of Being Close,” “How to Start A High School Underground Newspaper,” and George Lakey’s article on “Strategy for Non-Violent Revolution.”

Throughout the 1970s, AFSC’s other high school rights activities included the Student Rights and Responsibilities Program in Dayton, Ohio, and the Boston Public Education Program, which addressed unconstitutional practices in the city’s public schools. School integration work was developed in San Francisco, Chicago, and Pasadena. In Seattle and Portland, the work focused on Native American youth.

Countering militarism

In the 1980s, AFSC’s U.S. programs continued to educate students about their rights while strengthening community understanding and ability to address issues such as desegregation, discipline, violence, and drugs.

In 1987, AFSC developed the Youth and Militarism program, which combined AFSC’s focus on public education with the concern over the increasing presence of military recruitment personnel and programs in many public schools across the nation. The program worked with students, informing them of their rights, providing education on the full obligation of military enlistment, and explaining viable non-military alternatives for students after graduation.

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