On Human Dignity: The Need for Human Rights Education

Felisa Tibbitts

Global education takes as its starting point the myriad of cultural connections among individuals and across borders in a world whose societies are economically interdependent. This consciousness of "the other" shimmers with the realization of our similarities and our differences, and the discovery of our common dreams and fears. The deeper questions lie just below the surface: What does it mean to be human? What is the good society?
The values and standards contained in human rights documents provide a universal ethic for considering such questions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1998, presents a set of rights to which individuals are entitled by virtue of being human.

The Universal Declaration is concerned with freedom of personality. It and similar documents are ultimately about social and political progress, since personal and societal development are inextricably linked. Protection against "inhumane practices of the State" can mean the promotion of more just societies.

Human Rights and the United Nations
Human rights education is an international movement to promote awareness about the rights accorded by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the procedures that exist for the redress of violations of these rights (Reardon 1995, 4). This core mission of human rights education-concerning awareness and advocacy-is supplemented by an effort to promote attitudes and skills of an even greater breadth. The United Nations declared 1995-2004 as the Decade for Human Rights Education. In the United Nations Plan of Action, human rights education is defined as a training, dissemination and information effort aimed at building a universal culture of human rights. This culture should:

Other key human rights documents, such as the original Charter of the United Nations (1945), the American Regional Agreement on Human Rights Standards and Institutions (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the right to related education (Action Professionals' Association for the People 1996).

International Applications
Across the world, both governmental and non-governmental educational agencies have implemented programs of human rights education in both the formal and informal educational sectors. This work is being conducted on a community level by international non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International, or by local groups concerned with women, labor, development, the environment, social justice, and religious issues.
Efforts to promote human rights are aimed both at the formal education sector, through the development of materials that can be used in school settings, and the informal education sector, through activities such as the celebration of International Human Rights Day on December 10 (the date of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), inter-cultural summer camps, drawing competitions and street theater. Work in the informal education sector and at the community level is particularly popular, for example, in countries with high illiteracy levels and strong oral traditions. For example, in some Asian countries like Nepal, India and Bangladesh, which have theater traditions, street performances are used to educate the young and adults about their social rights and responsibilities.

In some cases, such groups are able to work with government agencies in infusing such education into the formal curriculum. Through the cooperative efforts of educational authorities and human rights groups-such as Amnesty International and the Netherlands Helsinki Committee-human rights courses and topics have been introduced into the national curricula of Albania, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, the UK and Ukraine. These human rights materials are usually accompanied by related teacher training, with special emphasis on the creation of a democratic climate in the classroom and school.

Human rights education has branched into an international movement in recent years, not only because of the greater attention it has received from organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International as a mechanism for protecting against human rights abuses, but because of the collapse of totalitarian governments in the former Soviet Union and South Africa.

Since 1990, several streams of reform in Central and Eastern Europe, including the newly independent states, have direct implications for the field of political education, although they have been initiated unevenly. Mandates for new civics, ethics, and sociopolitical classes have been called for to replace the former Marxist-Leninist subjects. At all levels of the educational communities involved, there seems to be broad acceptance in principle that classes that address democratic education and human rights themes need to be developed (Tibbitts 1994, 367).

Human rights education remains an imperative the world over. On the negative side, governments and warfare continue to violate the human rights of individuals, denying human fulfillment and the potential for a good and just society. On the positive side, the potential for a global embracing of the values embodied in the Universal Declaration has never been greater.

Teaching about Human Rights in the United States
It may be tempting for U.S. educators to consider human rights education irrelevant for this country. Don't human rights abuses take place in other parts of the world? Why talk about the U.N. and its documents when the Bill of Rights covers most of our basic freedoms?

There is a strong feeling in the U.S. that our national documents sufficiently protect individual liberties. Human rights education challenges us to consider not only political and civil rights-the "freedom rights"-but also the "security oriented" rights that propose that individuals are entitled to a basic standard of living, including decent housing, food and work, through the state's management of resources. This is the proposition that may be difficult for Americans, since it suggests a potential government role in these areas. The recent struggles over health care legislation reflect, among other things, the conflicting views that we have over the responsibility of government versus the individual in guaranteeing health insurance. A human rights perspective asks us to consider such policies as comprehensive health care, affordable housing and basic, quality education from the vantage point of human rights.
Student awareness of codified rights may begin at the middle school level, when children are able to analyze legal and political documents. Two simple exercises can introduce students to human rights.

Exercise 1
Provide students with the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence and a simplified version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In small groups, students will discuss how the Declaration of Independence expressed a world vision of the initiators of the American Revolution. What human rights did it establish? What relationship between government and rights did it describe? Students will then compare the vision expressed in the Declaration of Independence with that expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After the small groups have shared their results, students will individually write down and share three ideas that they think would make the world a better place. (This lesson comes from Reardon, 1995.)

Exercise 2
Have students research newspapers for stories that exemplify human rights themes. These examples should be categorized according to whether rights are denied, rights are protected, rights are in conflict or rights are exercised. Ask students to locate these human rights principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Help the class to consider the fuller spectrum of human rights entailed in the concept of three generations of rights:

Definitions and examples of such rights should be clearly explained, including a reference to their historical evolution and conflicting views about the role of governments in ensuring second and third generation rights.

In the U.S., a historical outlook that stresses individualism and international isolationism can blind students to our global interdependence and need for taking personal and global responsibility. Why should young people care about the plight of their vulnerable classmates? For that matter, why should an American student necessarily care about the status of human rights in Burma, when both the problems and possible solutions seem far away?
There is an inherent value in establishing norms of caring and responsibility which all students need to understand. Many examples from history demonstrate the effectiveness of individual and collective action for bringing about social change. The civil rights movement provides a rich opportunity for discussions about racial justice and human rights. Students might study the personal story of Rosa Parks, and how her actions affected the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955. The non-violent campaign of Mahatma Gandhi to win independence for India is another good example of how individual and collective actions can combine in the successful achievement of human rights.

Amnesty International, with a membership of over one million, is a group comprised of private citizens who work for the release of "prisoners of conscience" in many parts of the world through letter-writing campaigns. Thousands of human rights organizations across the world work to make people aware of human rights abuses so that public opinion and pressure can be brought against guilty governments. Regional inter-governmental agencies such as the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, are prepared to respond to human rights emergencies. Lessons that raise awareness about these mechanisms for human rights protection are contained in the resources listed at the end of this article.

In many ways, human rights education is a subfield within an enlightened form of democratic education that promotes a respect for rights as well as social responsibility. However, unlike the premise of political education, which is based on the notion of "the citizen," human rights education takes as its premise the individual as a member of the human race. Human rights education locates moral authority not in the legitimacy of any particular state, but in the inherent dignity and potential of each person as a physical, sensitive, thoughtful and spiritual being.
The lessons in this article involve direct discussion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its protections against human abuse. However, since human rights education is ultimately about human dignity, freedom and responsibility, education in the lower grades can also make a contribution. The use of literature, creative writing, art, and drama, as well as history, social studies and current issues, can help students to develop:

Discussions about everyday occurrences in the classroom such as interpersonal conflicts can also help students to develop skills for participation in pluralistic communities.

Human rights provide an ethical and moral framework for living in a community, whether this be a class, a school, a village, a city, a nation state, a continent, or the global village itself (Osler & Starkey 1994, 349). Since no society is wholly just, there will always be a need for human rights education.

A Human Rights Lesson Plan*

A provocative lesson for high school students focuses on political freedom. The teacher will need to obtain copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for students.**

Step 1. Ask the class as a whole: "What does it mean to you to be free?" Write the responses on the blackboard or a large sheet of paper.

Step 2. Ask the students to identify which of these answers expresses political or civil rights. Note these next to the original set of responses.

Step 3. Ask students if there are any other civil and political rights not mentioned but included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Students can then refer to the Declaration. After noting their answers, the teacher should refer to the document and fill in any gaps. The teacher might mention that the first 21 Articles of the Universal Declaration concern civil and political liberties.

Step 4. Ask the students "How do you know how much freedom exists in a particular nation?" After some brainstorming, the teacher can make a differentiation between "rights on paper" and "rights in practice."

Step 5. Tell the students that they are part of a team that has been sent into an unknown country to assess the "level of freedom." Ask the students to brainstorm what information or clues they might look for in this country to determine the "level of freedom." This could be done as a whole class or in small groups that report to the class.

Step 6. Break students into small groups and ask each group to select one of the Articles in the UDHR that refers to a civil or political right. Each group is to come up with indicators for the "level of freedom" for this particular right. These indicators should be presented as a "scale of freedom" with the low end of the scale representing a nonexistent level of freedom for this particular right, and the high end of the scale complete freedom for this right. For example, for the right to vote, at one end of the scale you might have no right to vote (totalitarian rule); in the middle of the scale, the right to vote but only for one party; and at the other end of the scale, the right to vote in a multi-party system. Students might need 20-30 minutes to develop these scales.

Step 7. Groups then present their scales of freedom. An optional, follow-up assignment is to have students select a particular country and research its overall level of freedom, using some of the indicators presented in the class. The lesson may also be carried out for social and economic rights by substituting "security" for freedom.

* Adapted from David Shiman, Teaching Human Rights (Denver: Center for Teaching International Relations, University of Denver, 1993).** Contact the United Nations Association-USA, 458 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017 for assistance.
Selected Resources
The following books contain practical lessons and activities for use in the classroom. These resources are useful for a range of levels.

Amnesty International. First Steps: A Manual for Starting Human Rights Education. Address: 1 Easton Street, London WC1 8DJ, United Kingdom. Published in 1996. Price: free.Amnesty International USA-Educators Network. Human Rights Education Resource Notebooks. These include:
1. Children's Rights;
2. Conflict Resolution and Peace;
3. Death Penalty;
4. Economic Rights;
5. Gay and Lesbian Rights;
6. Human Rights Education Workshop Models;
7. Human Rights Education in College Classrooms;
8. Indigenous Peoples' Rights;
9. Race, Religion, and Ethnicity;
10. Teaching Human Rights through Literature;
11. Teaching Young Children about Human Rights;
12. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
13. Women's Rights;
14. Introducing Human Rights in the Elementary School;
15. Introducing Human Rights in the Middle School;
16. Introducing Human Rights in the High School. Address: 53 West Jackson, Room 1162, Chicago, IL 60604.Amnesty International Human Rights for Children Committee. Human Rights for Children: A Curriculum for Teaching Human Rights to Children Ages 3-12. Address: Hunter House, P.O. Box 2914, Alameda, CA 94501. Published in 1992.Betty A. Reardon. Educating for Human Dignity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 423 Guardian Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6097. Published in 1995.United Nations Centre for Human Rights. ABC Teaching Human Rights: Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Centre for Human Rights, 1989. Price: free. Address: Centre for Human Rights, United Nations Sales Section, New York, NY 10017.

These resources are focused primarily on the middle and high school levels.

Edward L. O'Brien, Eleanor Greene and David McQuoid-Mason. Human Rights For All, prepared by the National Institute for Citizen Education in the Law. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company, 610 Opperman Drive, P.O. Box 64526, St. Paul, MN 55164-0526. Published in 1996.David Shiman. Teaching Human Rights. Denver: Center for Teaching International Relations, University of Denver, Colorado, 80208. Published in 1993.
Instructional Technology

Amnesty International. Universal Declaration of Human Rights Animated Video. Languages: English, French and Spanish. New York: Amnesty International-USA, Publications Dept., 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001.Amnesty Interactive CD ROM. Available from: Amnesty International-USA, Publications Dept., 322 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10001.Amnesty International World Wide Web Home Page: http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/ This home page contains sample lessons, archived resources, bibliographies and interactive forums.

Human Rights Education Organizations

These organizations can assist you in locating materials, organizing teacher training, and initiating programs in human rights education.Amnesty International USAEducators Network53 West Jackson St.Chicago, IL 60604Canadian Human Rights Foundation1425 René-Lévesque Blvd. West, Suite 307Montréal, Québec H3G 1T7 CanadaHuman Rights CenterUniversity of MinnesotaRoom 437, Law SchoolMinneapolis, MN 55455Human Rights Education AssociatesP.O. Box 382396Cambridge, MA 02238Instituto Interamericano de Derechos HumanosApdo. 10081-1000San JoseCosta RicoNational Institute for Citizen Education in the Law711 G StreetWashington, DC 20003People's Decade for Human Rights Education526 West 111th StreetNew York, NY 10025

Action Professionals' Association for the People. The Bells of Freedom. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 1996.Amnesty International. Amnesty International's International and Regional Human Rights Education Programme. London: Human Rights Education Team, International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1994.Blahoz, K. "Human Rights and the Concept of the Legal State in Socialist Countries." In N. Barfoed & H. Holtermann (eds), Human Rights in Eastern and Western Europe. Copenhagen: The Danish Centre for Human Rights, 1990.Campos, B.P. "Psychological Development and Personal and Social Education in Schools" in H. Starkey, The Challenge of Human Rights Education. London: Cassell Publishing, 1991.Gillespie, J.A. Introduction in: D. Heater and J.A. Gillespie (eds.), Political Education in Flux. London & Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1981.Heater, D. Human Rights Education in Schools: Concepts, Attitudes and Skills. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, School Education Division, 1984.Kelly, A.V. Education and Democracy. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd., 1995.O'Brien, E.L., Greene, E. and D. McQuoid Mason. Human Rights for All. Minneapolis: West Publishing Company, 1996.Osler A. and H. Starkey. "Fundamental Issues in Teacher Education for Human Rights: A European Perspective." Journal of Moral Education 23, no.3 (1994).Reardon, B.A. Educating for Human Dignity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.Shiman, D. Human Rights. Denver: Center for Teaching International Relations, University of Denver, 1993.Tibbitts, F. "Human Rights Education in Schools in the Post-Communist Context." European Journal of Education 29, no. 4 (1994).United Nations Centre for Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Plan of Action for the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004. Geneva: United Nations Centre for Human Rights, GE.95I8031.

Felisa Tibbitts is the Co-Director of Human Rights Education Associates, which works internationally in supporting human rights education programs.