Thursday, January 8, 2015
Teachers everywhere look for vivid and multifaceted case studies to drive their lessons home. Tragic as the situation is for residents of Detroit, the events of the past year -- the city's bankruptcy, the municipal water shut off, the UN Special Rapporteurs' efforts to intervene, the local organizing on the ground -- provide an excellent case study for teaching about the human right to water in particular and the status of economic and social rights in the U.S. more generally.
There is plenty of reading material that can be assigned as background for this case study, including the series of letters submitted to the UN Special Rapporteurs, the resulting UN statements, and the reports on the bankruptcy court's bench ruling rejecting a human rights analysis.
For teachers who want to provide additional context while adding some visuals, a new series of two reports on RT America (Russian television) are particularly noteworthy. The RT series Breaking the Set, hosted by alternative journalist Abby Martin, has just posted two 30-minute segments focused on Detroit. In the first segment, titled Extinguishing the Homeless and Shutting Off Human Rights, Martin goes on the scene in Detroit to interview residents about the impact of the water cut-offs, including an extensive discussion with Beulah Walker, a leader of the Detroit Water Brigade. The second segment, titled Bankrupcy Dictatorship and Foreclosed Futures, includes a fascinating driving tour of Detroit's fragile neighborhoods and abandoned factories, and in-depth interviews of two Detroit activists -- Rev. D. Alexander Bullock and Michele Oberholtzer -- who are working to address fundamental inequalities in the city. In both segments, Martin asks repeatedly about the human rights frame, pressing the activists on how such a frame might be meaningful in the Detroit context. The answers are telling and provide provocative fodder for classroom discussion about whether and how human rights matter in the U.S.
Martin closes the second segment by expressing a strong point of view about the national, state and municipal priorities which have allowed Detroit to sink into bankruptcy. A teacher might decide to turn the tape off before that point to allow students to reach their own conclusions. But whether or not you make it to the end, these segments provide many moments that will stimulate discussion and reflection.