Teach-ins help members of your group inform themselves and others about the background and facts concerning a particular AIDS issue. A teach-in, along with the materials you gather together, can continue to inform new members of your group, members of your community, and others about the issues. It can significantly enlarge the pool of people who feel competent to work on an issue.

As part of the action-planning process, teach-ins enable everyone participating to understand the mouths. and to be articulate and informed spokespeople without putting words in their mouths. Teach-ins provide an alternative to "experts" by enabling people without formal education or previous knowledge of a subject to become knowledgeable. When you meet with politicians, directors of agencies, reporters, or others, they will have to contend with your group's knowledge as well as its numerical strength.

Time frame

Give yourself enough time to research the issues, gather materials, develop a handbook, and publicize the teach-in. If you're planning a teach-in on an issue that needs research and for a group that extends beyond the bounds of your own organization, a time frame of four to six weeks is probably about right. Pick the date of the teach-in at your first meeting so you can arrange for a space and can begin to publicize it immediately.

Gathering information

Usually a group of anywhere from one to 15 people can organize a teach in, depending on the range of topics and the scope of information you need to gather.The first step is to develop a working outline that includes the topics you want to cover. For the ACT UP/New York Centers for Disease Control Teach-in which was organized by seven people, we decided we wanted to cover 1) the history of the CDC; 2) the organizational structure and mission of the CDC, including people in positions of authority and its relation to other Public Health System agencies: 3) the history of the development of CDC policies concerning HIV/AIDS, specifically the development of the definition of AIDS and AIDS epidemiology; 4) the actual way the CDC conducts its epidemiology (the information that is and is not gathered and tabulated); 5) current epidemiological research projects; and 6) the problems created by the way the CDC operates and by how they have defined AIDS.

One source of information often overlooked is people with HIV/AIDS who have had to deal with an agency or have been affected by a policy currently in use. Another is people within your community who work with people with HIV/AIDS and/or work with agencies serving them and who sympathize with your issues. First-hand experiences of people provide the basis for understanding what needs to be changed. For example, for our CDC teach-in we spoke to people with HIV who were seriously ill but could not receive an AIDS diagnosis, with people who file case surveillance reports, and with doctors who see many people with HIV who do not qualify for disability or for an AIDS diagnosis but who are seriously ill.

An obvious source of information is your local library or a university or medical school library. The agency itself (or a politician or corporation) also has information. Sometimes there is a public relations department which will have documents giving you an agency's position on a particular topic, and so on. The CDC has such a department. They sent us a packet describing their history, mission, and organizational structure, along with a flow chart. We found books about AIDS with chapters on the history of the development of the CDC definition. We also looked through 'Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports,' a weekly journal published by the CDC, from 1980 to the present, to see what they'd published about AIDS in general, and about the case surveillance definition in particular. We did literature searches through computer systems at libraries.

You can also call "experts" at local colleges, public health agencies, and even at the agency in question. Usually they are very forthcoming with information and will send you copies of papers or documents published by the agency or tack forces or others. We spoke to friendly epidemiologists, reviewed HIV surveillance reports (and got placed on the mailing list for them), and the CDC Strategic Plan for HIV. We also looked at newspaper articles about the CDC and its policies.

Figuring out the story and your demands

Once you have gathered information, the group planning the teach-in meets to share information, discuss what you have and haven't found, and decide what you think the issues are and what your demands will be. During this process, different members of the group, working together, can uncover patterns and understand the issue in a way that one individual rarely can. From the information you have gathered and your discussions, you may want to reformulate the plan for your teach-in, or research another aspect of the topic. You may also want to formulate or reformulate your demands.You will also see a logical outline for the way the information will make most sense to someone else. Usually people will then go back and research a few more aspects of the issue before a final outline is developed.

Putting together written materials or a handbook

You'll want to make the actual teach'-in short and to the point. But often, issues are complicated. We've found that teach-ins work best when people can take written material home with them, even if it's just a copy of an article or a fact sheet. Most often we've put together a handbook that contains articles, summaries of articles, critiques of current policies, the rationale behind our demands, and so on.

The CDC teach-in handbook, for example, included a chapter from a book which described the history of the CDC; a document from the CDC describing its "Organization, Mission and Functions;" pages from a Congressional report outlining what epidemiology is and isn't; a book chapter describing the history of the CDC's classification system for AIDS; two organizational charts showing the relationship of the CDC to other agencies along with the major personnel; some pages from a recent HIV surveillance report; a copy of a CDC print-out of surveillance information; a chapter about the Definitions and Codes for HIV Infection and AIDS, a broad classification scheme used by a local agency; a diagram of female reproductive/sexual anatomy; an information update on HIV infection and women; and a history of mandatory testing policies for other illnesses.

At the teach-in we handed out a critique of the CDC policies that we had written based on all this.

How long should a teach-in be? What should the structure be?

To keep people interested, teach-ins work best if they're kept as short as possible and if you have a break-iime so people can get up and walk around. A two hour teach-in with a half hour break in the middle has worked best for us.

Often the questions and answers and discussion periods will extend the time for another half hour. To make the time comfortable try to find a good space and provide refreshments drinks and snacks-which people can get during the teach-in as well as during the break. To keep people interested, teach-ins work best if several different people present material. Different presentation styles and sections of different lengths keep it lively. Visual material also helps. You might want to use an appropriate film or slides, making sure they're not too long (Media Networks New York has a catalogue of AIDS films and videos).

Each presentation should be brief-no more than 15 minutes per person if possible. If you have written material to distribute, the people presenting do not have to give all the details. Time should be left for discussion and questions, preferably after each section and at the end as well. Make sure to include your list of demands in the presentation. Sometimes it helps to begin with the demands, while at other times it seems more appropriate at the end. If there is no specific action planned yet and the teach-in is being used to spur people to action, you might have a section on possible targets and actions.

Who to invite? When should it be held? Where should it be held?

Sometimes a teach-in is only for members of your group. Often, however, you can make it a public event. This will bring new people to your group who might join or at least participate in the action. It can be used simply to inform the community and to spur them to actions of their own. Sometimes teach-ins will connect to a particular action, and you'll want to get people from outside your group to participate. If reaching people outside your group is your goal and especially if you want to use the teach-in to motivate them to join an action-you will want to hold the teach in at least two weeks (preferably a full month) prior to the event. You can also redo it in shorter form at your pre-action meeting, which is usually held a couple of days before an action. Put fliers around your community, notices in newspapers and newsletters, or perhaps do a mailing so that you get the broadest possible audience. You might want to hold the same teach-in twice, say on a weekday evening and a weekend afternoon, when it will give those people with scheduling conflicts a chance to attend.

The location of a teach-in should be geared to making it accessible to the people you want to reach. It should be easy to get to and, if possible, a place people know well. It should also be accessible to people who use wheelchairs, and be physically comfortable.

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