Human Rights Education Teaching about, through and for rights.
Human Rights Education Teaching about, through and for rights.
Also in this edition: Assessment after the levels, the new GCSE specifications and teaching the implications of Brexit.
Edward Waller is Co-founder of RealisingRights. Previously he led the UNICEF UK Education Team as it developed and scaled up the Rights Respecting School Award. Contact: email@example.com
Human Rights Education for all… a necessary campaign
In this article Edward Waller sets out the rationale and aims for a new campaign group aiming to make human rights education an entitlement for all young people. We urge readers to consider his argument and to respond to the call to action at the end.
In a nutshell Human Rights are universal principles which are required for dignified living. Their realisation is key to genuine human progress in the context of the global challenges of the 21st century.
Human Rights Education (HRE) promotes critical thinking and wellbeing in an inclusive, just and sustainable world. There is evidence from many countries, including this one, that human/ child rights based approaches have a positive impact on children and adults at many levels (there are links to evaluations at the end of this article). HRE, as explained below, builds on these approaches and can be a game changer.
In ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, Parliament actually agreed to human rights being a part of every child’s learning. Whilst there has been some progress in all three of the other UK jurisdictions, the Department for Education has done very little to translate this into policy and practice in England even in the areas of citizenship, RE and PSHE, where the opportunities are most obvious.
We therefore need to develop a broad coalition to campaign for Human Rights Education to be placed at the heart of all schools’ purpose and ethos.
Climate change? Currently there are many in the present Westminster Government who want it to distance itself further from human rights based thinking. For example the current Prime Minister, when Home Secretary, said in 2011:
“This is why I remain of the view that the
Human Rights Act needs to go.” (Theresa May, 2nd October 2011, to Conservative Party conference, as Home Secretary)
Many in the current administration would love to cold-shoulder the European Convention on Human Rights (which UK lawyers did so much to help draft and is not to be confused with the European Court of Justice).
This trend is taking place in the context of wider and sustained disinformation about, and cynicism towards, Human Rights in this country, in much of the media and amongst politicians, going back over 30 years . This is typical of the propaganda: “So step by insidious step the Human Rights Act encroaches on every area of our life, driven by greedy lawyers and politically correct judges grabbing ever more power for themselves. In four short years this Act has undermined British common law - which has governed our lives for 800 years.”
Our views about human rights are left vulnerable to manipulation because the vast majority of us know little or nothing about them, including those who malign them.
In this volatile climate it is time for schools and the many other organisations and individuals who would benefit from a more Human Rights friendly culture to take the initiative through a campaign for a factual and evidence-based understanding of Human Rights and how we should live to ensure they are realised. We need Human Rights Education – as a right.
Despite the hostility from certain quarters, a campaign for HRE will not be without its support in Parliament. For example Justice Minister Lord ‘‘ ‘‘ This is why I remain of the view that the Human Rights Act needs to go. (Theresa May, 2nd October 2011, to Conservative Party conference)
Human Rights Education for all… a necessary campaign
McNally said on behalf of the Conservative / Lib Dem Coalition Government on the 24th March 2011, commenting on the UK’s support for the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training:
“Everyone agrees on the importance of upholding human rights. The coalition’s programme for government outlines our commitment to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these rights so that the UK offers an inspiring example of a society that upholds human rights and democracy. In that context I am delighted that the UK is supporting the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training… The events that are happening across the world demonstrate now more than ever the power which a strong understanding and commitment to inalienable human rights can bring to bear.”
Pity nothing has come of it…yet. In the immediate aftermath of the March 2017 Westminster attack the same Theresa May who expressed hostility to the Human Rights Act in 2011 was moved to say:
“…..the values our Parliament represents – democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law – command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.” So maybe she, like many others, has a more mixed understanding of human rights than she likes to let on.
Another glimmer of light came this year with the publication of a report by Bright Blue , which describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism”. In it the authors argue:
“The protection of human rights has been a defining and fundamental part of British society for centuries”.
And yet, drawing on a 2014 Yougov survey they write:
“Britain is the home of human rights. However, among a significant proportion of the population, ‘human rights’ currently have a bad reputation, especially among Conservative voters. The little research that has been done into the attitudes of Conservative voters towards human rights shows that 37% of Conservative voters believe ‘Human rights don’t really exist – no particular rights should be given to all people at all times’. Conservative decision makers and opinion formers have also expressed frustration with human rights legislation, especially the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights”.
(The same survey also shows that only 58% of the whole sample said that ‘human rights really exist.’) In the light of the evidence of confusion/ ignorance about human rights it would be reasonable to expect a recommendation to address this through Human Rights Education. The fact that this is missing will undermine the support they seek for realising the recommendations to strengthen human rights that they do make. Moreover, it is clearly not enough simply to learn about human rights. The Department for Education has to be persuaded that it has a duty to put the UK’s paper support for human rights into practice by requiring all schools to model Human Rights Education and by making provision for the necessary professional development, including for ministers, civil servants, school leaders and Ofsted. This would not be a curriculum-focused requirement although there are implications for curriculum planning. It would demand that the schools show how their vision, moral purpose and ethos reflect Human Rights principles. Schools could, in England for example, be required to show (in age and ability appropriate ways) that the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development ‘‘ ‘‘ Our views about human rights are left vulnerable to manipulation because the vast majority of us know little or nothing about them, including those who malign them. Peace in my Pocket, photo courtesy of Danny Hammontree on flickr
www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk | Winter 2017 | Issue 46 Teaching Citizenship | 11 (SMSC) is incorporated into the school’s ethos and curriculum to promote an understanding of human rights, their universality and how those rights are respected, defended and promoted in both daily life at school and at home and in different, wider contexts.
Amongst the many benefits of this approach, explained further below, is that there would be no need for a separate introduction into the curriculum of the seemingly arbitrary and rather isolationist Fundamental British Values. Human Rights – What are they and what are they for? Human rights address the 4 essential requirements that all human beings share to live their life in dignity:
• Survival • Protection from harm • Development • Participation as a citizen in local and global communities These universal needs gain elevated status when they are expressed in terms of human rights. A right implies a duty to realise that right. Human Rights have to be realised by those responsible (the duty bearers). At one level, these are the state and employers in all organisations. At another level there is a need for a reciprocal respect for human rights if they are to be realised for all. In that sense all adults have some degree of responsibility for realising rights. Upholding human rights in law should be the last resort. So human rights based living needs to be learned – at all levels. We need to know what it is we are respecting!
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), was adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Its 30 articles set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. It “proclaims a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations” and it has been translated into over 500 languages.193 states including the UK are members of the UN. The UDHR includes rights to live in safety, without discrimination and to speak and organise freely (whilst observing the bounds set by all human rights). Article 30 states (plain language version):
“No society and no human being in any part of the world should act in such a way as to destroy the rights that you have just been reading about.” But when do we read about them? When do we learn about them? How can we hold organisations and each other to account if we do not know what human rights are not as a list, but as a set of interlocking principles that can act as a guide to living?
In 1989 the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Since then over 190 other countries have ratified it. The UK Parliament ratified this in 1991. It spells out the rights of the UDHR in ways that are relevant to the needs of children. It makes clear that adults and their organisations are responsible for realising and protecting the rights of the child. These rights include the right to learn about human rights and how to use them as a guide to living a “responsible life in a free society”. Article 42 states: States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.
Article 29 sets out a vision for education to which every school should be able to subscribe. It states: 1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; (b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations; (c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own; (d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin; (e) The development of respect for the natural environment. ‘‘ ‘‘ There would be no need for a separate introduction into the curriculum of the seemingly arbitrary and rather isolationist Fundamental British Values.
Human Rights Education for all… a necessary campaign
By requiring every school to make provision for Human Rights Education, these rights would be realised for every child in an age and ability appropriate way.
What is Human Rights Education? The adoption of Human Rights declarations, conventions and treaties by the United Nations represents important progress towards an inclusive, just and sustainable world but it is clearly not enough. Indeed there are plenty of signs recently of attempts to undermine this progress.
People need to know and understand how human rights work in their daily lives, to make the quality of life better for all.
No one has explained the need for Human Rights Education more eloquently than Eleanor Roosevelt who did so much to bring the UDHR into existence. In a speech to the UN Assembly in 1958, she said:
“Where after all do human rights begin? In small places close to home…..
Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
But to uphold their rights, citizens need first to know them.
Progress in the larger world must start with human rights education in just those small places, close to home.”
Since then, there has been much progress in understanding what human rights education should look like, based on collaboration between a widening pool of practitioners around the world. HRE will remain, quite rightly, an evolving work in progress as we build on the achievements of successive projects. ‘‘ ‘‘ Whilst acknowledging the challenges in evaluating Human / Child Rights based approaches there is evidence in many countries of a consistent positive impact.
In 2011 the United Nations adopted a declaration on Human Rights Education and Training which sums up current understanding:
UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (Article 2.2) states that Human Rights Education encompasses: (a) Education about human rights, which includes providing knowledge and understanding of human rights norms and principles, the values that underpin them and the mechanisms for their protection; (b) Education through human rights, which includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners; (c) Education for human rights, which includes empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others.
The three elements are complementary and any single one in isolation would be insufficient for compliance. Thus, learning only about human rights is inadequate, for ‘facts and fundamentals, even the best selected ones, are not enough to build a culture of human rights’. Equally, however, the building of such a culture by education through and for human rights cannot occur in the absence of fundamental human rights knowledge. The combination of all three, therefore, represents the holistic approach to HRE that is often expressly advocated within the relevant legislation and literature.
HRE needs to model what it advocates. Thus, provision needs to be made for adults working in and with schools to understand their human rights holistically and work together to ensure their environment is rights respecting. Parents should be included in continuing rights awareness provision. It is important for example that parents see that the rights of the child are not at odds with, but are a subset of their own human rights.
Why should we support this campaign for HRE for all? We can already see the potential for a fully-fledged human rights education provision in the range of human rights based approaches being developed within many countries today. Examples include the
Robert Kennedy Human Rights schools project Speak Truth to Power, Amnesty International’s Human Rights Friendly Schools, The UCL Centre for Holocaust Education Beacon Schools and UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School Award. A list of resources reporting on and analysing some of these schemes is provided at the end of this article. Whilst acknowledging the challenges in evaluating Human / Child Rights based approaches there is evidence in many countries of a consistent positive impact.
UNICEF UK’s child rights based scheme, which has been running for over ten years, illustrates the desired direction of travel. The model aligns with the explanation of HRE above in that learning takes place about, through and for child rights. All children and adults in each school community learn, for example, that every child has the right to: • be safe and protected from harm • privacy • have their views heard and taken seriously • reliable information • an appropriate education • nutritious food • relax and play An understanding of these and other child rights is explored in an age and ability appropriate way, through methods such as role play, class discussions and referencing across the curriculum. Staff collaborate to share ways of modeling rights respecting approaches in the classroom and to build up a holistic understanding of child rights based approaches. A child rights lens is applied to school policies and improvement plans.
Adults (not just teaching staff) and young people collaborate to put this all into practice in the classroom, around the school, at home, in the community and when using social media. There is increasing provision for genuine participation leading to young people, parents, teachers and governors becoming convincing advocates for rights respecting to be a way of living.
The reported impact of this child rights based approach shows that young people: • value social justice and inclusion – children are more confident to speak out if they feel there is something wrong; • enjoy and feel safe at school – there is a reduction in bullying and discriminatory behaviour among the children; • feel included and valued; • are more engaged in their local and global communities as ‘active citizens’. The evaluations also indicate that young people’s:
• moral understanding is enhanced; • wellbeing and emotional resilience is improved; • engagement in the school and their own learning is improved; • attainment is improved, and the attainment gap between disadvantaged and nondisadvantaged pupils is narrowed. The evaluation reports are listed at the end of this article.
A significant overarching finding about young people’s attitude to learning about child rights is their appreciation of the universality of rights in particular. They can see how this universality goes from the classroom, out the school gate, into their community and into the wider world. It overcomes the relativism that often undermines both home / school relationships and encourages seeing oneself as a global citizen.
Having ratified the convention, 26 years ago, Parliament should have been overseeing its implementation and monitoring the progress of the DfE in its “delivery” of these rights. The strategy, modeling a human rights based approach, should have included working in partnership with LAs, schools and Ofsted, using criteria based on Articles 29 and 42 as the basis for evaluation and action planning. Imagine the positive and cohesive impact on teaching and learning that the implementation of these two articles could have had if they had been used to shape school development over the past 26 years. It is a sobering thought that with this approach more children would have been empowered to speak up and more adults would have been ready to listen earlier, with a greater likelihood of more effective intervention in the cases of child abuse that have been only too graphically reported in the last decade or so. Over the last 30 years or so, national and local initiatives have included anti-bullying, wellbeing (including relationships, emotional intelligence), healthy eating, critical thinking, pupil voice / school councils, resilience, character building, restorative justice, global and democratic citizenship. All could have been given coherence and added value if they were unified through a human rights based approach that highlighted the universal principles underlying them. ‘‘ ‘‘ Upholding human rights in law should be the last resort. So human rights based living needs to be learned – at all levels. We need to know what it is we are respecting!
Human Rights Education for all… a necessary campaign
A fully implemented scheme for human rights education involving all schools would model the principles it aimed to promote, including ensuring the rights of all those working in education are understood and mutually respected. Policy, planning and resourcing would be a collaborative process with all participants being required to experience for themselves holistic learning about, through and for human rights. This would include ministers, civil servants, school leaders, Ofsted inspectors and the teaching profession through ITE and CPD. There would be provision for feedback from teachers and young people to inform the evaluation, revision and planning process.
Over the period of a generation of school students this would amount to a relatively low cost and very high impact investment. The reasons can be summed up as follows:
The case for a human rights based approach to education 1. Effectiveness The challenges of the 21st century require a positive vision of an inclusive, just, reflective and sustainable society in which a much greater proportion of citizens understand and are empowered to participate in their local and global communities. These are requirements that HRE in schools would address. • HRE helps to raise the aspirations, empowerment and attainment of learners. • HRE helps people to think critically and to see themselves as active citizens, with a right to shape the world in which they live in a democratic, inclusive way. • HRE contributes to improved wellbeing. Research shows that the state of learners’ wellbeing impacts on their educational outcomes including their empowerment. 2. Appropriateness • The requirement to promote human rights would provide a more relevant, inclusive and effective framework for achieving mutual respect and non-discrimination than the more limited requirement to promote “Fundamental British Values” • Human rights provide a framework of principles that enable people to find shared values leading to non-violent conflict resolution. 3. Rational and evidence-based • Current understanding of Human Rights is at a very low level and this is at odds with the extent to which Human Rights issues are to the fore on the local, national and international stage. • Establishing respect for human rights helps achieve rational discussion. • The promotion of the responsible enjoyment of social media would be enhanced by establishing human rights principles as a framework. 4. An entitlement • The UDHR, the UNCRC, the UNDHRET all make clear that HRE should be made available as a right to all people, including young people. • There is an obligation on the Department for Education to implement what Parliament has ratified / approved by translating rights into policy and practice in all education settings. ‘‘ ‘‘ Where after all do human rights begin? In small places close to home… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. (Eleanor Roosevelt) Human Rights, photo courtesy of Steve Parkinson on flickr
Conclusions a) Successive Westminster governments have failed to fulfill (or even embark on) their commitments relating to the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and their enthusiastic initial endorsement of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education. b) Willful misreporting about, and cynicism towards, Human Rights has been facilitated by a high degree of ignorance of and about Human Rights amongst citizens. c) The case for requiring all schools to incorporate Human Rights Education into its ethos and to model human rights based approaches in all it does is very persuasive. d) It is unlikely the present administration would embrace HRE or fulfill its commitment regarding the UNCRC and the UNDHRE&T without huge pressure. e) There are sufficient organisations and individuals who, through a coordinated campaign, could achieve such pressure. Suggestions for the next steps in the campaign for HRE for all Even at this very early stage it is heartening to find support coming from ACT in particular in addition to a number of leading academics. Over the next period we see no reason why professional organisations, NGOs and other bodies in the education sector should not begin to throw their weight and some resources behind the campaign.
We also hope that the Children’s Commissioner for England, who “must, have regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in considering… what constitute the rights and interests of children” will help bring about the changes we seek.
If there are any schools who would like to participate in this campaign please contact us. We shall be doing our best to raise the profile of our campaign and engage as many potential supporters as we can over the next phase. Are you in? To find out more / become a campaign supporter contact:
Look for the group ‘Human Rights Education for All’ on Facebook
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org References looking at implementation and impact of Human Rights / Child Rights based approaches in education: 1. UN review of HRE progress 2009. http://bit.ly/2f8TxAM 2. Hart, J. (2010) Rights Respecting Schools – the emerging evidence about impact and implications for teacher education. http://bit.ly/2ynPeKj 3. Covell,K. & Howe, B. (2011) Rights Respect Responsibility in Hampshire schools. http:// bit.ly/2xeqIez 4. Sebba, J. and Robinson, C. (2010) Evaluation of UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School Award. http://bit.ly/2xkgrPO 5. Amnesty (2012) Final Evaluation of the Africa Human Rights Project (AHRE) http://bit.ly/2xPK8JG 6. Jerome, L. (2015) Teaching and learning about Children’s Rights: A study of implementation in 26 countries. http://uni.cf/2yn003B 7. Further information on child-friendly schools, rights respecting schools and Human Rights Friendly Schools. Appendix 7. http://uni.cf/2jHTUrj 8. Beacon schools evaluation (UCL Centre for Holocaust Education). http://bit.ly/2f769s4 Biographical note: Edward Waller is Co-founder of RealisingRights. He contributed to the piloting and expansion of the Rights Respect Responsibility project with Hampshire schools (evaluated by Covell and Howe at Children’s Rights Centre, Cape Breton University College, 2009). He joined UNICEF UK in 2006 to lead the education team as it developed and scaled up the Rights Respecting School Award (evaluated by Sebba and Robinson, 2010). He was previously a Head of Humanities at a secondary school and Chief Examiner for AQA Humanities GCSE and co-authored and edited a GCSE Humanities resource book. ‘‘ ‘‘ HRE should be made available as a right to all people, including young people. There is an obligation on the Department for Education to implement what Parliament has ratified / approved by translating rights into policy and practice in all education settings.
Speaking Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders
Liz Moorse and Lee Jerome
In this article Liz Moorse and Lee Jerome report on a recently completed pilot project undertaken by ACT on behalf of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights a US based organisation established by Kerry Kennedy, Robert’s daughter. ACT recruited a group of teachers in England to trial the Speak Truth to Power human rights curriculum resources, which are already being used around the world in 14 different countries. The object was to see how these resources would contribute to citizenship education, by developing students’ engagement with human rights and to get teacher feedback on how well the resources worked in the context of the curriculum in England. The results reveal some useful insights into how teachers might approach this area and how powerful, personal human rights stories can inspire student learning and action.
Introduction to the project The Speak Truth to Power curriculum, based on the UN’s principles of human rights education, is taught to millions of students around the world. Using the stories of human rights defenders in an innovative, flexible manner, Speak Truth to Power’s lessons are designed to fit any subject, teaching students that they, too, can learn to self-identify as a human rights defender and have a role to play in the global fight for justice.
The curriculum is grounded in the belief that a human rights literate citizenry (teachers, students, community organizers etc.), who are knowledgeable about human rights and committed to the promotion, protection and defence of human rights, will bring about a paradigm shift. This shift will be demonstrated by an increased ownership of human rights and an active support for the fulfilment of human rights from the very local to the global. This will in turn create a citizenry committed to holding its society to the highest standard of peace and justice.
The Association for Citizenship Teaching was commissioned by the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights to pilot the curriculum resources in schools in England. The
overall goal of the pilot project was to find out how the STTP resources have been used and to what extent they have had an impact on pupil attitudes to and learning about human rights, human rights issues and human rights actions. The Speak Truth To Power Human Right Curriculum resources There are over 50 curriculum resources published on the STTP website. These are written as case studies with suggested teaching activities, based on the powerful stories of human rights defenders from across the world. Each begins with some text based on interviews carried out by Kerry Kennedy, when she wrote her book “Speak Truth to Power, Human Rights Defenders who are changing our world”. Some of the defenders included are very well known such as Nelson Mandela in his struggle for political rights in South Africa and Malala Yousafzai for her work campaigning on girls’ education. Others will be less familiar.
There are many themes and issues represented in the materials that relate to different aspects of Citizenship and human rights education, which will be useful to teachers, including: statelessness, political participation, child slavery, women’s ‘‘ ‘‘ Teaching about rights as a struggle has the advantage that it makes rights engaging and urgent from the very start, whereas approaching the content first and moving into action second, may well be less motivating than combining them like this.
Liz Moorse is Chief Executive at ACT and managed the project discussed in this article. Lee Jerome is Association Professor of Education at Middlesex University and evaluated the project.
Images from a Human Rights Defenders exhibition at the Towers School and Sixth Form Centre, Kent. Courtesy of Head of Citizenship, Zoe Baker.
rights, LGBTQ rights and environmental rights. In addition the STTP website includes some specific resources on ‘Becoming defenders’ and details of the play written by Ariel Dorfman as a theatrical representation of Kerry Kennedy’s book which has been performed by school students and famous actors around the world.
The education work and indeed the work of the whole of the RFK Centre’s work is underpinned by the vision of Robert Kennedy which can be seen in his 1966 ‘ripple of hope’ speech given in South Africa:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends out a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million centres of energy and daring, those ripples of hope build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
The pilot process Ten schools (8 secondary and 2 primary) were involved in the pilot from different parts of England, with students of different backgrounds and abilities and teachers at different stages of their career from very experienced to those who have recently qualified. Teachers attended two project meetings, the first to support them in planning how they might use some of the STTP resources in their curriculum and the second to find out what happened. All teachers were encouraged to develop their own unique response that fitted with their curriculum approach and the particular needs of the pupils in their school, and where possible ensure the concept of ‘Becoming a defender’ through a human rights action was part of the pupil learning experience.
A short film is available on the ACT website to exemplify how Zoe Baker, a teacher in a non-selective secondary school in Kent used the materials with her students along with other materials from the pilot project. (www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/ RFKHumanRights)
Evaluation An independent evaluation of the project was undertaken through the University of Middlesex. The aim was to evaluate the ways teachers in England used the resources, including: • How do teachers adapt and / or supplement
these resources to develop lessons in the context of primary and secondary schools in England? • What do teachers judge to be the most valuable aspects of the resources? • How do teachers use the resources to provide opportunities for students’ active citizenship? • To evaluate the experience of students using these resources. The evaluation drew on the following sources of evidence: • Evaluator attendance at the initial and final project meetings and at one of the school exhibitions. • Focus groups with participating teachers and students in some of the schools. • Individual interviews with some of the teachers. • Review of teaching materials and teachers’ records. • Review of samples of student work. • Evaluation questionnaire from some of the students. ‘‘ ‘‘ Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends out a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million centres of energy and daring, those ripples of hope build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. (Robert Kennedy, 1966)
Speaking Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders
Evaluation Findings • 94% students found the lessons interesting and motivating • 96% students enjoyed the learning
1. The use of case studies Students and teachers felt the case study approach at the heart of the STTP project was one of the most valuable aspects of the work. The detailed case studies of human rights defenders enabled teachers to focus on specific contexts, issues and the experiences of individuals and groups of people. This focus on the specific ways in which human rights are relevant to real life situations is powerful because it addresses an emotional dimension to the learning. Many of the students were genuinely moved by the plight of people and felt that human rights was a powerful part of the solution.
Teachers carefully selected the case studies to ensure coverage of a range of issues and in some schools they were particularly aware of the need to select case studies from different parts of the world, especially representing economically richer and poorer countries. For example one school focused on LGBTQ rights by studying Frank Mugisha’s experiences in Uganda and Jamie Nabozny’s experiences in the USA. This is important to avoid creating the impression that human rights are issues for ‘other’ people in ‘other’ places.
2. The focus on human rights defenders Teachers agreed that the idea of defenders was one of the most valuable concepts. Focusing on human rights defenders helped the teachers to establish political action as a significant focus from the outset, privileging the process of promoting human rights, rather than the body of knowledge of human rights. This struck teachers as intrinsically motivating for the students and it also helped to frame human rights as an on-going and imperfect process
rather than a settled matter.
Teachers were aware of the danger that focusing on extraordinary individuals can be counterproductive and intimidate ‘ordinary’ people who may not feel able to rise to that standard. However, in conversation with some of the students they were genuinely inspired by these examples, not intimidated by their bravery and willingness to take risks. The students were clear about the ways in which they could play a part in the struggle, even if that were a smaller part than the human rights defenders they had studied. One teacher said that students had got to know the defenders they were learning about really well and been inspired to undertake their own additional research. Students had begun to refer to defenders by their first names, and almost see them as their friends.
www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk | Winter 2017 | Issue 46 3. Learning about human rights Students were generally aware that human rights existed before the project, but were interested to learn about the breadth and scope of human rights and how they apply to all aspects of people’s lives. Students were able to explain how the project enabled them to appreciate that, whilst human rights apply to everyone, there are specific obstacles to achieving them, for example class, poverty, location and specific forms of discrimination. In addition to learning about the breadth of the human rights frameworks generally, and the specific examples they had studied, students were also able to generate insights, such as that human rights are essentially about protecting people around the world. Such insights enable the students to acknowledge human rights as a standard to aspire to, understand why people are often denied those rights, and rather than be despondent, to see human rights defending as process to pursue to improve people’s lives. 4. Learning about activism for human rights In reflecting on their lessons, one group of students said that one of the most valuable areas of new learning had been their knowledge about the range of actions human rights defenders could undertake. Teachers also found that the additional resources on the website page ‘Become a Defender’ (see links at end) were particularly useful in helping them to teach about the forms of activism and how students could develop their own action. A recurrent idea in conversations with students was the metaphor of the ‘ripple of hope’ and this enabled them to understand that everyone could ‘‘ ‘‘ The students were clear about the ways in which they could play a part in the struggle, even if that were a smaller part than the human rights defenders they had studied.
cause a ripple, even if it was relatively small. This idea helped students to see their own small actions close to home as being essentially similar, albeit on a different scale, to the actions of the human rights defenders they had studied.
5. Working towards outcomes One of the consequences of the teachers’ focus on the concept of activism and the role of individuals as human rights defenders was that most of the projects ended with some form of action. In some cases, where time was relatively short, the action was planned, but not carried out. In others, there were some definite forms of action, for example: In one school students held an exhibition based on the defenders they had found most inspiring and invited staff and parents to see the exhibition and discuss the issues with the students presenting their work. All of the students took the opportunity to collect individual pledges from visitors relating to the issues they had studied, for example “I pledge not to discriminate against someone because of their sexuality” or “I pledge to support education for girls.”
In another school students wrote to the Foreign Secretary to urge him to support Frank Mugisha and the Ugandan LGBTQ movement and to apply pressure on the Ugandan government to repeal discriminatory legislation. The lack of response was disheartening for some, but the teacher was able to return to the issue and talk about what they could learn from this – in this example there were some very specific learning points, such as that writing to one’s local MP to ask them to raise an issue on their behalf is more likely to get a response. The MP can raise the issue through written questions, and is more likely to feel duty bound to respond to young citizens, especially to support a local school. Through these kinds of detailed actions and
reflections of action, teachers were keen to help students think about the different levels at which they could act (in class, in school, in their local community, nationally or globally) and the process of change (exactly how will an action can cause a ripple of hope and change). Insights for practice Two insights stand out as being particular relevant for Citizenship teachers and for ACT’s future work in this area. First, it seemed significant that these resources embed the teaching of the content about human rights within the political struggle for human rights. Many of us are familiar with the idea that we should teach about, through and for human rights (or citizenship for that matter), but this project really brought home how important it was to embrace this from the very start. Teaching about rights as a struggle has the advantage that it makes rights engaging and urgent from the very start, whereas approaching the content first and moving into action second, may well be less motivating than combining them like this. Second, the power of the case studies of human rights defenders really shone through in the students’ responses. This approach of foregrounding individual people within geographically located case studies really seemed to drive home the relevance of rights in a way that teaching about universal principles may sometimes miss. This approach to teaching weaves together the individual case studies and the general knowledge about the UN, declarations and conventions, which enables teachers to achieve deep thinking about rights within specific case studies. ‘‘ ‘‘ Teachers were keen to help students think about the different levels at which they could act (in class, in school, in their local community, nationally or globally) and the process of change (exactly how will an action can cause a ripple of hope and change).
Where next for Speak Truth to Power human rights education? Plans are currently in progress to launch STTP human rights curriculum materials and a teacher support programme to many more schools in England and to continue the partnership working between ACT and RFK Speak Truth to Power.
If you would like more details about the project or are interested in joining the support programme please get in touch.
You can find out more about the ACT pilot here: https://www.teachingcitizenship.org.uk/ RFKHumanRights
You can see the STTP resources here: http://rfkhumanrights.org/what-we-do/speak-truthpower/