Flaunting the Freak Flag, by Gael Graham

Teaching the Article
Exercise 1

The Rights Revolution in American High Schools

High school did not become a common experience for most American teenagers until after World War II, but in the 1950s and 1960s mandatory school attendance helped produce a shared youth culture. By the mid-1960s, many high school students became politicized--that is, they took notice of the rapid changes in their society, analyzed and critiqued society and school life, and sharpened their awareness of power relations in school and society. What do these documents tell us about how high school students viewed their world and the public schools? What changes did they want, and what rights did they claim?

Then as now, high school students were hardly homogenous. Because school desegregation shaped many large urban schools, divisions between black and white students created tensions, hostility, and sometimes violence. Yet racial divisions could fade when high school students perceived themselves as sharing common ground. How do the demands of black and white students in documents B and C differ? Looking at all of the documents together, what issues might students of different races agree on? Why? Was there one high school student movement or several?

At the time people often blamed the upheavals of the 1960s on a "generation gap," arguing that young people and their elders could not communicate because of vast differences in their values. Most historians now downplay the generation gap because many young people shared the values of their parents. The high school haircut cases reinforce the latter view, since parents of boys who sued generally supported their children's opposition to school rules, as did Chesley Karr's parents. What do these documents tell us about a generation gap? What might the authors of documents B and C think of document D? How might the adults who wrote document D respond to the demands voiced in documents B and C?



A. "What Do People Think about Their High Schools," Life, May 10, 1969
B. Demands of the New York High School Student Union, New York High School Free Press, 1970
C. Demands of black students at Cubberly High School in Palo Alto, California, 1970
D. "Student Rights and Responsibilities--A Central Board Policy Statement," Detroit Board of Education, July 1971