Asked Questions About Human Rights
learn about the Bill of Rights
in school. Isnt that enough?
The rights contained in the US Bill
of Rights are mainly civil
and political rights, such as the right to
a fair trial, to assembly, to free speech, and worship.
Human rights, however, also include social,
economic, and cultural rights that are not
included in the US Constitution or Bill of Rights, such
as the rights to adequate housing, health care, and a
Human rights also reflect a broader
value system than the Bill of Rights and other sources
of "legal rights" in the United States. Human
rights are not related to citizenship in a particular
country. Human rights also include how individuals relate
to each other, not just how people and governments relate.
Every human being has the right to know about and enjoy
How can I teach human
rights when I have never studied about them? What if I cant
answer peoples questions?
Few of us had any opportunity to study
about human rights during our formal schooling. This is
part of the problem. The foundation of all learning is
inspiring interest, curiosity, and personal connection
to the subject matter. Research shows people of all ages
remember and integrate best when they participate in their
learning. You dont have to know all the answers
to facilitate human rights education; you do have to know
how to help people, including yourself, look for answers.
"Experts" can evoke passivity, boredom or a
sense of incompetence, especially if they present human
rights from a strictly legal perspective. You need not
be an expert with a legal background. You do need to be
willing to be part of the learning process. Therefore
the most effective educational techniques in human rights
education, as reflected in this book, offer a high level
of active participation, using techniques such as role
plays, debates, discussion, drama, and small group work.
How can knowing about
human rights make any difference in the work I do in my
Many people are engaged in human rights
work without knowing it! Because Americans usually define
"rights" as those civil and political rights
guaranteed in the US Bill of Rights and other laws, many
people working for social, economic, and cultural rights
do not recognize that they too are human rights advocates.
As a director of a battered womens shelter who attended
a human rights training observed, "Until today I
never thought of myself as a human rights worker. Now
I want every woman who comes to the shelter to know that
she has a human right not to be beaten. And I want our
organizations brochure to state this too
right at the top of the first page."
Organizing around human rights provides
a common vision and value system. Rather than working
in isolation from each other, people working on social
justice issues can unite around the shared framework of
human rights. In this way, once understood and claimed,
human rights can serve as a powerful tool to spark hope
for the future and effect change.
How do you know human rights education works? Does it really
change attitudes and behavior? What proof is there?
Because human rights are a new frontier
in education, little research is yet available. Useful
analogies can be drawn, however, to law-related education,
values education, character education, global education,
and anti-bias education. Although measuring changes in
information levels is easy, changes in attitude are difficult
to quantify, especially as they can take place over a
period of years. Can we test for an increased respect
for human dignity? Clearly this is an area where much
work is needed. Many human rights educators have witnessed
first-hand the power of using the human rights framework
to change students attitudes and behaviors. One
social worker engaged in human rights education for the
past five years commented, "I have seen my students
become respectful individuals who have hope and commitment
to making the world a better place."
How do you teach human
rights to people whose rights have been abused (e.g., the
homeless, people in prison, people with disabilities, refugees)?
No matter what your audience, always
draw on peoples experience. If human rights education
doesnt address their lives, it wont matter
much. Always tailor what you teach to your audience.
On the other hand, in an effort to
achieve relevance, dont neglect the interdependence
of rights. Refugees, for example, not only need to know
about their rights as refugees but also about the full
spectrum of rights (e.g., their rights to education, shelter,
freedom of movement, and self-determination).
Isnt human rights
education just for schools?
Just as all people everywhere have
the same human rights, so people of every age need to
know and understand about their rights. The content and
goals are much the same at all ages; only the methodologies
vary. A young child learns somewhat differently from a
teenager, and a judge or a resident in a battered womens
shelter learns somewhat differently from a union organizer,
a social worker, or a police officer. Although an informed
facilitator can be helpful, adult groups can educate themselves
about human rights using activities like those in Part
III, "Introducing the Universal Declaration of Human
Emphasize for all age groups
- peoples lived experience
- interactive methodologies rather
than lecture, which often results in passive listening
- rights as evolving ideas that are
shaped by peoples needs
- rights can sometimes conflict,
requiring thoughtful evaluation
- universality, i.e., that human
rights transcend any political, religious, or cultural
How does one advocate
for human rights and still maintain respect for cultural,
religious, and other differences?
Human rights are universal. On the
one hand they apply to everyone regardless of culture
and beliefs. On the other hand, they guarantee the right
to practice and advocate for those differences.
By their very nature human rights
are subject to conflict. One persons conscientiously
held belief (e.g., that one race is superior to all others)
can violate anothers human dignity and human rights.
Human rights education includes exploring solutions to
these kinds of conflicts, both those that occur in the
local community (e.g., the right to free speech vs. the
right to protection from "hate speech") and
those that occur on a global scale (e.g., the right to
practice ones culture vs. protection from harmful
traditional practices). Resolutions are seldom easy and
sometimes impossible. Nevertheless, placing such conflicts
in a human rights framework is essential to their full
understanding. And resolution can only come through attitudes
of equality and respect and through the skills of negotiation,
mediation, and consensus building, all fundamental to
human rights education.
Where do human rights fit into an already over-crowded school
curriculum? Especially into subjects other than social studies?
Human rights education works best
when woven into the fabric of existing curriculum. Its
a way of thinking about the world, not just subject matter
to cover. Teachers can find opportunities everywhere to
engage and challenge their students about human rights.
Ideally human rights are taught across
the school curriculum. Although social studies classes
make the most obvious fit, many subjects can be viewed
from a human rights perspective. For example, Part III,
"Introducing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,"
provides questions to apply to many topics both within
and beyond the curriculum:
Human rights education also provides
many opportunities for service learning, community service,
and youth advocacy projects.
See Part IV, "Taking
Action for Human Rights."
Isnt human rights
education too political for schools?
Knowing about human rights makes people
better able to participate in the social and political
life of their communities. However, it is important to
distinguish between political and analytical skills and
party politics and political ideology. Educators have
a great responsibility not to become propagandists or
to push students towards a specific political position
or party. Human rights education must be exploratory,
open-ended, and problem solving. It should also call on
the learner to identify and strive to eliminate injustice.
Wont human rights
topics distress people?
Human rights education should not
focus only on rights abuses, which can be disturbing and
dismaying to people of all ages. While human rights education
may include teaching about violations, it also provides
a value system that condemns those actions and upholds
human dignity. Human rights education also offers people
the skills to take action to prevent such abuse, as well
as to advocate for the realization of human rights.
Indeed, educators need to shield children
and some adults, such as former victims of abuse, from
the brutality of human rights violations (e.g., Amnestys
Childrens Edition Urgent Action letter writing appeals
edit out explicit details of abuse). However, everyone
can be inspired by the vision of a world built upon principles
of human dignity, respect, and justice where such abuses
do not occur.
Whats the difference
between human rights education and moral education, peace
education, law-related education, development education,
multicultural education, global studies, citizenship education,
or conflict resolution? Where does human rights education
These different forms of education
share many common features; all include acquiring knowledge,
skills, and attitudes. Human rights education, however,
provides a shared value system where all intersect. For
example, peace education incorporates human dignity and
the right to peace and security. Multicultural education
reflects the human rights principles of nondiscrimination
and participation in ones own language, culture,
and religion. Law-related education enables students to
measure US law against international human rights standards.
Human rights should be part of all
these educational movements!
Isnt human rights education anti-American? Doesnt
it criticize our country?
The UDHR set a standard by which to
assess the human rights achievements of all countries,
including the United States. No country has a perfect
record. Human rights education acknowledges the successes,
identifies the shortcomings, and encourages citizens to
work for improvement. In regard to many human rights,
the US is an acknowledged leader (e.g., freedom of speech,
press, religion); in other areas clear deficiencies exist
(e.g., health care, equal education, housing).
What materials do I need to teach
This book has all the material you
need to get started:
1. Basic human rights documents
and definitions (Part V, Appendices)
2. Background information on human rights history
and mechanisms (Part I, Human Rights Fundamentals)
3. Activities for learning (Part III, Activities)
4. Teaching strategies (Part II, The Right
to Know Your Rights)
5. Action ideas (Part IV, Taking Action for
6. Resource list of human rights materials (Part
The only other requirements are people
with the desire to learn and the willingness to meet and
What resources are there to assist me in human rights education?
For speakers, trainings, videos, curriculum
materials, books, and consultation, contact the Human
Rights USA Resource Center:
Human Rights USA Resource Center
310 Fourth Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1012
Web Site: http://www.hrusa.org