Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bringing Human Rights Education to US Classrooms

December 10, Human Rights Day, commemorates the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.  A guiding force in defining human rights, the Declaration's Article 26(2) addresses human rights education, providing:

    Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of     respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and     friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations     for the maintenance of peace.

Human rights education in the U.S. has been limited at best.  Many NGOs and faith-based groups such as Amnesty International and the American Friends Service Committee engage their constituents in human rights education, but the Universal Declaration is intended to speak to government institutions.  A handful of school systems, such as Minnesota's, have developed material for school-based human rights education, but few US students are exposed to this material before high school, or even college or graduate school!  More typical is the conclusion reached by Idaho's Wassmuth Human Rights Center when they began examining the issue: "Trends in Idaho will make it extremely difficult to establish human rights education as a separate subject area for which distinct curriculum standards would be appropriate."

A new book, edited by two professors at the University of San Francisco, aims to respond to the UDHR's challenge.  According to the publishers, Bringing Human Rights Education to US Classrooms, edited by Susan Katz and Andrea Spero, "presents ten research-based human rights projects powerfully implemented in a range of U.S. classrooms, from elementary school through community college and university. In these classrooms, the students—primarily young people of color who have experienced or witnessed human rights abuses such as discrimination and poverty—are exposed for the first time to thinking about their own lives and the world through an empowering human rights lens. Unique in integrating theory and classroom practice, and in addressing human rights issues with special relevance for communities of color in the US, Katz and Spero provide indispensable guidance for those studying and teaching human rights." 

For more resources on human rights education, see Human Rights Education Associates, Minnesota's Human Rights Resource Center, the Connecticut Dodd Center's human rights lesson plans, and Idaho's Wassmuth Center for Human Rights.

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