Thursday, February 19, 2015
Did you first learn about human rights issues at a Model United Nations?
According to the U.S. United Nations Association, more than 400,000 students participate in Model United Nations programs each year. Through Model UNs, students practice skills like drafting, advocacy, negotiation and public speaking. Importantly, they are also exposed to human rights issues on a global and national scale as they research the policy positions of their assigned countries and evaluate possible alliances with other nations. Prominent Americans who participated in Model UNs range from Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer to famous "first child" Chelsea Clinton to actor Samuel L. Jackson.
With support from Newman's Own Foundation, in 2010 the U.S. United Nations Association created a special human rights curriculum to be used in conjunction with a Model UN program in a middle-school or high school classroom setting. Special topics in the curriculum include children's rights, free expression and universal primary education.
Interestingly, though Model UN is a huge driver of human rights education at high schools and universities across the U.S., its origins are obscure and it operates as a loose, decentralized and student-powered network. Further, the legal academy has virtually ignored the role of Model UNs in shaping Americans' views of human rights and global politics. Legal scholars only occasionally note the role that Model UN programs play in expanding American awareness of transnational perspectives. A deeper analysis of the ways in which Model UNs have served as a decades-long forum for developing Americans' global perspectives -- perhaps reinforcing exceptionalism or alternatively, straining against it -- would be a fascinating contribution.