Social Education 58(7), 1994, pp. 441-442
National Council for the Social Studies

Educating Young Children on the
United Nations

Judy Casburn
One day in a primary class of five- to seven-year olds in Adelaide, South Australia, discussion arose about conflicts, including war. One student declared, "Well, if there was a war here, I would just get Arnold Schwarzenegger. He'd soon kill everybody." This is not so surprising and confirms the impact of television on children. To provide opportunities for alternative attitudes to solving conflict, in a non-violent way, students were exposed to experiences and knowledge using an integrated curriculum approach with particular emphasis on Countering Harassment and Decision Making.

Kindling Interest
The Countering Harassment curriculum embraces the following subjects: the rights of students, protective intervention, life as learning, understanding oppression, and learning as a process. In the first three lessons, students explored the differences between wants, needs, and rights. They were provided with a summary of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. These were discussed, and the children made a mural depicting many of the rights. "What's the United Nations anyway?" asked a child. To answer this question, children were involved in a decision-making process.

Democratic History
The entire school was involved in a process of electing children to the Student Representative Council. To provide information about elections and decision making, the class visited the Old Parliament House in Adelaide. It was built in 1850 and is preserved as a museum of the constitutional history of South Australia. The building is next to the New Parliament House, which was completed in 1936. The children were given a tour of the Old Parliament House, where they viewed the old House of Assembly, the Speaker's chair, the public and press galleries, and various relics of the first days of responsible government in 1852. They visited the New Parliament House and viewed members, business, and procedures that were occurring at the time. This set the scene for the events that followed at school.

Decision Making
The students took part in activities at school that preceded the elections of Representatives to the Student Council. Regular class meetings with Chairperson, Timer, Observer, and Recorder files provided actual experience for students on meeting procedures. A range of topics were placed on the agenda, including class rules and consequences for both positive and negative behaviors, and the curriculum content to be studied. This provided a springboard for participation on the Student Representative Council where decision making on issues concerning the whole school is discussed by the representatives. They return the suggestions to their own class for a decision, which is made known to the Council at the next meeting.

The election pro-cess involved teaching the argumentative genre where students attempted to persuade their classmates they would be an effective and responsible Council Represen-tative. Students wrote a brief statement about the school and exp-lained why they could best meet the needs of the school and how the school would benefit as a result of their election to the Council. These nominations were placed around the classroom on a silhouette of each child.

During the week of the election, final nominations were selected in the class, and students were identified at a whole-school assembly. At lunch times, soap box speeches were given by candidates in the yard, and a performance of songs, rhymes, or chants about election day, composed by students, was held in the drama room.

Free Fair Elections
On Election Day a special assembly was held with distinguished guests including the local mayor, state and federal politicians, and candidates for an impending state bi-election attending. A tabloid concerning decision making in the class and the school was featured along with speeches by some of the dignitaries present and a musical presentation of "How to make your vote count." Voting followed shortly after with parents acting as booth attendants. Students gave their names and were supplied with a voting slip, which they marked secretly with a tick for the candidate of their choice. At a special ceremony at a nearby shopping center a week later, the candidates, who had been advised of their election previously, were presented with membership certificates by prominent state and federal politicians. This empowering and extremely exciting experience, which included a focus on School Council elections, a visit to State Parliament, and a discussion of federal government, was a vital adjunct to teaching explicitly about the UN to these young students.

Human Rights for All
Initially, students were exposed to television news that highlighted Somalia, Bosnia, and Cambodia. The comparisons of conflicts between students of the same or different races, using examples in class or school, were highlighted to demonstrate that conflicts are everywhere, but they vary in intensity and danger. Newspaper pictures of war and other conflicts were collected and placed on a mural.

Discussion followed on class meetings as a means of resolving conflict by providing a variety of options and ideas. This was compared to the UN where meetings of the General Assembly or Security Council can be used to solve conflicts on a bigger scale. A scenario was role-played with students acting as delegates from different places in a Security Council-like setting to provide some options for conflict in a fictitious country. Children provided a variety of options and consequences of each before voting on one that appeared the most helpful.

The United Nations was viewed as a parliament with similar but some different roles. The children saw class meetings, Student Representative Councils, local councils, state and federal Parliaments, and the UN as organizations that help people feel safe, whether as class members or as members of the world community. They recognized that the UN was concerned with issues that affected the world rather than those just concerning their school, suburb, or state.

As a child was looking at the mural of the conflicts around the world, she said, "What's this UNESCO mean?" That will provide a focus for the next learning activity about the UN and the vital role it plays in the world today.

Judy Casburn is a teacher of five- to seven-year old children in a primary school in a suburb of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. She is also the Secretary for the World Education Fellowship, South Australian Section.