The Human Biology Bill of Rights

For the past two years, I have used a tool in my classroom that has been personally enriching, challenging, and resonant with my values:  the Human Biology Bill of Rights.

It came out of a conversation I had with a student who was afraid to research marijuana, the drug she was studying for a neuroscience project for my class.  We were learning about the differences between drugs’ impact on children and adults and how it can change brain development in teenagers who use them.  I said to her: You have the right to accurate information about any question related to human health – not just ones that are considered “kid-appropriate.”

From there came this list – the ones with a * were added or edited by my students over the past 2 years.

Human Biology Students’ Bill of Rights

As a student in this classroom, you have the right to…

  • Accurate sources of information about all topics related to human health and the body.
  • Ask questions that interest you and have them answered to the best of our collective abilities as a group of scientists.
  • Study topics relevant to your real life and well-being.
  • Resources that reflect your identity and lived experience.
  • Engage in discussion without fear of teasing, harassment, or judgment.
  • Have your ideas be treated separately from you as a person, especially in times of disagreement.*
  • Disagree respectfully with other students or the teacher.*
  • Take breaks when you need to and choose to opt out of discussions or readings that make you feel emotionally or physically unsafe.
  • Be able to talk to an adult that you trust in situations when you need support.
  • Speak from your own experience and have others believe what you share and treat it with respect and dignity.
  • A workload that challenges you, but does not ask you to do “busy work” or do more work than you can complete while staying healthy.

I revisit the BoR every trimester, asking students for their input and understanding of the items listed there.  I had some really rich conversations with kids this week about the reasons why each of these things is included in the list, and remind them whenever we are participating in something that might be harder for some students (such as conversations around medically/traumatic events, race/racism, drug use and its effects, or a variety of sexual topics).  I also use it for more mundane moments, like when kids are complaining about a homework assignment like my weekly reflections, or like my first student, afraid to do the research they were assigned for fear of being “found out” by a parent or administrator.  One kid asked if this could apply in every class, since he felt like he was expected to “busy work” in several of his classes – I recommended he took his concerns to his teacher, as it perhaps hadn’t occurred to him that he had the right to ask for something different.

I hope that as educators, we continue to frame conversations around things kids have the right to in every class, rather than just their responsibilities.  As young people, they are reminded too often of the things they are falling short on or still growing into.  Every child deserves some basic rights that are fundamental to education, especially in the realm of human biology.

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