Human Rights Education: An Elementary School Level Case Study By Megumi Yamasaki Ph. D. Thesis Completed June 2002 University of Minnesota Education Policy & Administration/Comparative & International Development Education Chapter 1



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Human Rights Education: An Elementary School Level Case Study

By Megumi Yamasaki

Ph.D. Thesis Completed June 2002

University of Minnesota - Education Policy & Administration/Comparative & International Development Education
Chapter 1: Introduction

Background of the Study


Following World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, P. C. Chang of China, Charles H. Malis of Lebanon, and Rene Cassin of France, with contributions from many others, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Appendix A) (Johnson, 1998). In the aftermath of the Holocaust, it was their hope to bring an end to the human history of world war. In 1948, the UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

Garcia (1992) points out that the value of this collection of universal ethics is that UDHR transcends the laws within all cultures and nations. In other words, when unjust laws in a society cannot be changed to respect universal ethics, individuals must instead follow the universal ethics (Garcia, 1992). After the fiftieth anniversary of the development of the UDHR, we are still struggling to create a world where people fight no more. People and nations still fight in the name of peace. How can we truly utilize the UDHR and move beyond war as a means for resolving conflict?

Montessori (1972) once said that "war is caused not by arms but by man . . . [only when] weapons fall from [man’s] hand will [it] mark the beginning of a radiant future for mankind” (pp. 21 - 23). However, arms do not fall from humans’ hands, unless people drop them. To be willing to drop weapons from our hands, we must realize the importance of creating peace in non-violent ways and must have the courage to take action. We all know that there are some people who have taken such courageous actions resulting in their long time oppression by the authorities, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Aun Sang Su, and Nelson Mandela.

When people realize the importance of non-violence and act upon that concept, we shall no longer need to worry about people fighting all over the world. Despite 188 member nations in the United Nations (Appendix B), the leading organization to promote the UDHR, we are still struggling to create a respectful environment for all of humanity. The UDHR Preamble says,

Upon the freedom of the individual depends that welfare of the people, the safety of the State and the peace of the world.

In society complete freedom cannot be attained; the liberties of the one are limited by the liberties of others, and the preservation of freedom requires the fulfillment by individuals of their duties as members of society.

The function of the State is to promote conditions under which the individual can be most free.

To express those freedoms to which every human being is entitled and to assure that all shall live under a government of the people, by the people, for the people, this declaration is made.


Each one of us must educate ourselves about our rights and take responsibility for respecting others’ rights. This is the reason why the researcher became interested in how human rights were taught to people, if such effort exists. Despite the fact that United Nation has been working on numerous peace making effort, if people were not educated about it, UDHR is only a document that states hopeful ideal society. The researcher felt the need for education that teaches people about human rights and how they could take responsibility individually, which could affect larger scale in a long term.

While the researcher was only thinking about such education, she ran into her former classmate who became a director of Human Rights Center in Minneapolis area. The director shared a project on which she was working that involved an elementary school working with Human Rights Education. The researcher believed that it was her opportunity to explore what kinds of affects Human Rights Education could provide with elementary school age children.



Research Purpose and Questions


The purpose of this dissertation is to answer these questions:

  • How do students at School X behave and/or treat other students? This question investigates whether Human Rights Education (HRE) had any influence on students’ behavior, i.e. how they valued and respected human dignity and life on a regular basis?

  • What influence did HRE have on students, cognitively, emotionally and practically? This question addresses whether HRE made any difference in student knowledge, or brought about emotional and behavioral changes. This also addresses the critical question of whether the HRE program at the school included praxis.

  • How can this school improve its HRE program? This is an important question for any program which tries to improve continuously. This part will be presented as recommendation(s), in the present study.

Currently at most U.S. schools, individuals or small groups of teachers take the initiative to incorporate HRE into their classroom instruction, but seldom is there a school-wide initiative in HRE. A good example of this decentralized approach is the program called the Partners in Human Rights Education (The Partners) located in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the upper Midwest of the United States. The Partners concept was developed in summer of 1992 by two lawyers who were interested in teaching primary and secondary school students about human rights. They approached the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, and the Partners program was formally established in the fall of 1992. The Partners’ mission is:

…to introduce international human rights and responsibilities to students of all ages. The Partners Program uses the framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child to help students to understand and appreciate common human values. Through the involvement of volunteer teachers, community resource people, lawyers, the program encourages students to create and implement projects that foster respect for human rights” (Training Manual, 1998, p. A.1.1).


This dissertation is a part of the education evaluation project, which was conducted collaboratively by three organizations: the Partners in Human Rights Education Program, the Search Institute and School X. (For reasons of anonymity, “School X” will be used to refer to the school at which this study was conducted.)

The Search Institute is an independent, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Its mission is

to advance the well-being of adolescents and children by generating knowledge and promoting its application. The institute conducts research and evaluation, develops publications and practical tools, and provides training and technical assistance. The institute collaborates with others to promote long-term organizational and cultural change that supports the healthy development of all children and adolescents. Specifically, to accomplish its mission, Search Institute:


evaluates child and adolescent programs and policies;

  • communicates research and evaluation findings to youth-serving professionals, parents, policy makers, and the general public;

  • translates research findings into products, training, and other services and resources.

(http://www.search-institute.org/aboutsearch/index.htm#Mission)
The Search Institute contributed to this evaluation project by developing the survey instrument to measure students’ knowledge, behavior and attitude acquisition through HRE and by analyzing the collected data, both quantitative and qualitative.

School X, established in 1996, agreed to participate in this study because part of its mission is to implement HRE, and it has been working with the Partners Program since its establishment.

The primary objectives of this evaluation project were to:


  • Develop instruments to assess human rights beliefs, attitudes and behaviors;

  • Document the impact of a school-based human rights curriculum on student beliefs, attitudes and behaviors; and

  • Use research results to develop an instrument that can be used by classroom teachers and others (Evaluation Project Proposal, 1996).

This dissertation will address the second objective of the Educational Evaluation Project, by (1) examining how one school implements a specific Partners HRE program and (2) assessing how HRE impacts students both educationally and personally. In particular, it will (1) illustrate how students perceive HRE, (2) investigate if/why/how HRE is important to them, and (3) find out how they use their HR knowledge in their daily lives.

To conduct this research, the researcher invited sixty-seven sixth and seventh graders who had previously gone through the Partners HRE at School X (during the1996-97 and 1997-98 school years) to participate. Among the sixty seven students, 18 ultimately agreed to participate in the interviews – nine males and nine females. Their parents consented to this participation as well. During the previous year, January and fall of 1997, pre- and post-surveys were conducted using the survey that the Search Institute developed. Sixty-four students completed the surveys. During the same fall 1997, 38 students participated in questionnaire that the HRE instructor conducted. In the analysis, the researcher analyzed her interview data and HRE instructor’s questionnaire data separately, and later, she compared between two analyses. For Search Institute’s survey data, she used in the conclusion chapter for the purpose of comparing between Search survey result and interview/questionnaire comparative analysis.


Rationale of This Study

While member nations that adopted the United Nations Charter have a responsibility to educate their citizens about human rights, little research exists at the practical level within the field of HRE (Lister, 1991; Starky, 1991). Some case studies are available, such as Conceptual Change in Elementary Social Studies: A Case Study of Fourth Graders Understanding of Human Rights by Wade (1994), to show school teachers and educators how HRE could be implemented at the school level. However, until now most HRE literature has been primarily theoretical. With more research, including case studies to show how HRE could be implemented in school and classrooms, HRE educators could have more specific ideas and encouragement to try HRE at their school as well as have resources to bring to school administrators.

This study can be of benefit in several ways. First, students at School X gain a sense of ownership and pride in their school’s HRE program. Because students are giving feedback on HRE at their school what have worked for them and what were useful for them, they could feel that they were contributing by giving the researcher their experience with HRE. Second, it will benefit Minnesota teachers and volunteers statewide who are implementing The Partners HRE program in their local schools, since this is a part of the Partners educational evaluation project. And, third, since the Partners Program is currently being duplicated as a key grassroots educational opportunity in three other cities nationwide, including St. Louis, MO, San Antonio, TX, and Atlanta, GA, (Memorandum, 1996), this study can benefit institutions nationwide that are implementing HRE programs.
Strength and Limitations

To clearly understand the student experience of HRE and its impact on attitudes and behavior, four methods of research were used to gather both qualitative and quantitative data: interviews, pre- and post-surveys conducted by the Search Institute, and questionnaires conducted by the HRE teacher at School X to see what students had learned from class. The interviews were conducted by the researcher in a non-threatening setting to maximize student input. Students involved in this study were not being graded for their participation; complete candor was encouraged. However, by not involving a control group, this study makes no attempt at a comparison between students who went through a human rights curriculum and those who did not.

This study presented several challenges, including scheduling difficulties with the school and the social worker, and obtaining permission from instructors for students to leave the classroom to take part in the research.

Finally, by participating in the Partners training session (as an HRE team member at another school), the researcher learned what the Partners do to prepare HRE educators, what resources are available and how the training and resources are utilized in an actual setting. During the training session, educators at schools, lawyers, and community representatives who volunteered to implement HRE at their school, were given the information, such as curriculum resources, a tour of human rights library at the University of Minnesota, and visual aid resources. Also, panels from a school, such as a teacher who had been implementing HRE at her elementary school and her students who went through classes; and human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Minnesota Human Rights Advocate, were present at the training session. This gave the researcher deeper insights into The Partners program and provided a context for interviewing the students.


Organization of This Dissertation

This study is divided into five chapters. Chapter 2 will review the research literature on HRE, which includes challenges of HRE, why HRE is needed, a brief history of HRE, objectives/ goals/purpose of HRE, guidelines for teaching in HRE, a developmental / conceptual framework of Human Rights Education, different approaches to HRE, and examples of HRE implementation. Chapter 3 is methodology. The chapter includes background of case study, and research context and design, data collection, and data analysis of this case study. Chapter 4 is analysis, which will show the findings analyzed by pattern of information, direct interpretation, and categorical aggregation. Chapter 5 will present the researcher’s conclusions about how students were affected by HRE.


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