University of Vermont

Center for World Education

Taking the Human Rights Temperature of Your School  

(Activity #7 from Economic and Social Justice: A Human Rights Perspective)

Participants evaluate their school's human rights climate using criteria derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The subsequent discussion builds towards identifying areas of particular concern and developing an action plan to begin addressing them.  This activity can be easily adapted for assessing the human rights temperature of one's family, neighborhood, or other community group.

Time:             1-2 hours
Materials:     -Handout 1, Taking the Human Rights Temperature
                      -Universal Declaration of Human Rights (reference only)
Setting:          Middle and high school - Administrators, parents, & teachers

1. Have participants evaluate their school's human rights climate (e.g., take its “temperature") by completing the survey questionnaire below.  Prior to completing the instrument or developing an action plan, participants might conduct research into school conditions, using the survey items below.

2. Prepare for discussion by creating a 1-4 rating scale on a chalkboard or newsprint. Then have participants call out responses to each item. Important: Participants might not wish to make their own responses public.  Consider collecting the questionnaires and redistributing them so that participant anonymity can be assured.

3. Discuss the findings from the survey, drawing on the following questions to move from analysis and evaluation to the development of an action plan.

a. In which areas does your school appear to be adhering to or promoting human rights principles?

b. In which areas do there seem to be human rights problems?  Which of these are of particular concern to you?  Elaborate on the areas of concern, providing examples and identifying patterns in human rights violations.

c. How do you explain the existence of such problematic conditions?

  • Do they have race/ethnicity, class, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation dimensions?
  • Are the issues related to participation in decision-making (who is included and who isn't)?
  • Who benefits and who loses/suffers as a result of the existing human rights violations?
  • Other explanations to consider?
d. Have you or any other members of your community contributed in any way to the construction and perpetuation of the existing climate (e.g., by acting or not acting in certain ways, by ignoring abuses or not reporting incidents)?

e. Were those completing the questionnaire representative of the population of the school?  Would you expect different results from a different group of people?  In what ways might another group's responses differ and why?  Should these differences be of any concern to you and to the school community?  When determining which human rights concerns need to be addressed and how to address them, how can you be certain to take into account the perspectives and experiences of different people?

f. What needs to be done to improve the human rights climate in your school?  What action(s) can you and your group take to create a more humane and just environment where human rights values are promoted and human rights behaviors practiced?

4. Review questionnaire item #25, stressing the importance of assuming responsibility and acting. Then, as a group brainstorm possible actions the group might take to improve the human rights situation? Decide on a short list of options for action. Thoroughly debate and discuss the short list before deciding on actions to be taken.

5. Based on the group discussion, choose items for action and develop an action plan, identifying goals, strategies and responsibilities.


Take the human rights temperature of your school.  Read each statement and assess how accurately it describes your school community in the blank next to it. (Keep in mind all members of your school: participants, teachers, administrators, staff.) At the end, total up your score to determine your overall assessment score for your school.

don't know

1._____ My school is a place where participants are safe and secure. (Articles 3 & 5)
2._____ All participants receive equal information and encouragement about academic and career opportunities. (Article 2)
3._____ Members of the school community are not discriminated against because of their life style choices, such as manner of dress, association with certain, people, and non-school activities. (Articles 2 & 16)
4._____ My school provides equal access resources, activities, and scheduling accommodations for all individuals. (Arts. 2 & 7)
5._____ Members of my school community will oppose discriminatory or demeaning actions, materials., or slurs in the school. (Arts. 2, 3, 7, 28, & 29)
6._____ When someone demeans or violates the rights of another person, the violator is helped to learn how to change his/her behavior. (Art. 26)
7._____ Members of my school community care about my full human as well as academic development and try to help me when I am in need. (Arts. 3, 22, 26 & 29)
8._____ When conflicts arise, we try to resolve them through non-violent ways. (Arts. 3, 28)
9._____ Institutional policies and procedures are implemented when complaints of harassment or discrimination are submitted. (Arts. 3 & 7)
10._____ In matters related to discipline (including suspension and expulsion), all persons are assured of fair, impartial treatment in the determination of guilt and assignment of punishment. (Arts. 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10)
11._____ No one in our school is subjected to degrading treatment or punishment. (A rt. 5)
12._____ Someone accused of wrong-doing is presumed innocent until proven guilty. (Art. 11)
13._____ My personal space and possessions are respected. (Arts. 12 & 17)
14._____ My school community welcomes participants, teachers, administrators, and staff from diverse backgrounds and cultures, including people not born in the USA. (Arts. 2, 6,13, 14 & 15)
15._____ I have the liberty to express my beliefs and ideas (political, religious, cultural, or other) without fear of discrimination. (Art. 19)
16._____ Members of my school can produce and disseminate publications without fear of censorship or punishment. (Art. 19)
17._____ Diverse voices and perspectives (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, ideological) are represented in courses, textbooks, assemblies, libraries, and classroom instruction. (Arts. 2, 19, & 27)
18._____ I have the opportunity to express my culture through music, art, and literary form. (Art. 19, 27 & 28)
19._____ Members of my school have the opportunity to participate (individually and through associations) in democratic decision-making processes to develop school policies and rules. (Arts. 20, 21, & 23)
20._____ Members of my school have the right to form associations within the school to advocate for their rights or the rights of others. (Arts. 19, 20, & 23)
21._____ Members of my school encourage each other to learn about societal and global problems related to justice, ecology, poverty, and peace. (Preamble & Arts. 26 & 29)
22._____ Members of my school encourage each other to organize and take action to address societal and global problems related to justice, ecology, poverty, and peace. (Preamble & Arts. 20 & 29)
23._____ Members of my school community are able to take adequate rest/recess time during the school day and work reasonable hours under fair work conditions. (Arts. 23 & 24)
24._____ Employees in my school are paid enough to have a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being (including housing, food, necessary social services and security from unemployment, sickness and old age) of themselves and their families. (Arts. 22 & 25)
25._____ I take responsibility in my school to ensure other individuals do not discriminate and that they behave in ways that promote the safety and well being of my school community. (Arts. 1 & 29)

Your total = ____ / (100)
  100 "Human Rights Degrees" possible


From ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL JUSTICE – David A. Shiman © 1999
To order copies of Economic and Social Justice: A Human Rights Perspective, contact:
Human Rights Resource Center
University of Minnesota
229 - 19th Avenue South, Room 439
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Tel: 1-888-HREDUC8 Fax: 612-625-2011
email: and



Last modified April 01 2003 11:22 AM

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