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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Rationale for Choosing This Case To Study

This case was chosen for this dissertation for several reasons. First, the case selected had clear boundaries, i.e., a specific elementary school and HRE program. More specifically, this dissertation is about the study of a bounded set of students who went through Human Rights Education at School X for a year.

The school had already worked with the Partners of Human Rights Education, a grass-roots non-profit organization for human rights, established in 1996. Upon the school establishment, the Partners worked with the principal of School X and a teacher who was willing to work with the human rights curriculum implementation to the school. Particularly, the HRE teacher closely worked with the Partners, and the school principal agreed to use the school for “pilot” site to implement HRE as school mission. This eliminated one possible obstacle for this study of HRE, namely, resistance from teachers and parents. All school staff members, such as administrators and teachers, and students and parents were aware of the school’s commitment to HRE as part of the school mission before selecting the school for enrollment.

Second, this case provided opportunities for rich and in-depth understanding of students’ experiences through survey data and direct interviews with the students. This study examined students’ experiences with HRE as well as how the students were using the information learned through HRE in their daily lives. In-depth, rich description of students’ experiences showed how HRE affected them beyond just knowing about human rights.

Third, this study provided the opportunity to see the significance of the theory of HRE (Yin, 1994). After data collection and analysis, the researcher introduced theoretical perspectives on “Human Rights Education as empowerment” to compare and contrast the current theory by Meintjes (1997) and the information/data that the researcher gathered for this study. In case study, the researcher “hope[d] to discover a theory that is grounded in information from informants (Creswell, 1998, p. 93). Lincoln and Guba (cited in Creswell, 1998) refer as “pattern theories” which means a “pattern of interconnected thoughts or parts linked to a whole” (p.94). The researcher believes that Lincoln and Guba means that by discovering the patterns among the information collected, the researcher should be able to make connections between individual information, which could be issues, problems, or phenomena in the system being studied, and the system as a whole. Neuman (cited in Creswell, 1998) defines pattern theory as a “system of ideas that inform” (p. 94). It emerges during the data collection and analysis of the study and may be used “as a basis for comparison with other theories” later in the research (Creswell, 1998, p. 95)

Research Questions

Merriam (1988) points out that the uniqueness of a case study is not necessarily in the methods employed, but in the questions asked and their relationship to the conclusions drawn. The nature of “the research questions, the amount of control, and the desired end product are issues to be considered when deciding whether case study is the most appropriate design for investigating the problem of interest” (p. 9). According to Yin (1994), case study requires that questions address issues of how and why, does not require control over behavioral events, and focuses on contemporary events. Stake (1995) designates questions that ask “how” as evaluative questions.
Research Context and Design

To address the impact of HRE on students, the researcher developed two research questions designed to discover the effect of HRE on students and help determine to what extent understanding human rights issues actually affects student’s daily attitudes and behaviors.

  • Do students develop a better understanding of key human rights concepts after going through the Partners HRE program?

  • If so, how do they apply these values in their daily lives?

Three sub-questions were developed to help address the main research questions.

  • How much do students remember the contents of their HRE program?

  • What instructional methods were more effective in helping the students to learn human rights concepts and responsibilities?

  • To what extent do the students utilize and take actions based on their HRE knowledge?

Data Gathering Methods

Unlike experimental, survey or historical research, case study is not limited to any particular methods for data collection or data analysis, such as interview, participant observation, or field studies (Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993; Merriam, 1988). Data gathering methods are decided based on what the research is attempting to find out (Stake, 1995). Hence, the case study’s uniqueness lies in the research questions that researchers ask. Stake says that it is important to question what some of the possible relationships are that may be discovered.


According to Stake (1995), in a case study, interview is the main avenue to the realities of informants who are directly involved in the phenomenon or case being studied. Two principal outcomes that a case study needs to obtain are descriptions and interpretations from the participants. The descriptions can be obtained by observation or by interviewing the informants. However, sometimes, the researcher has restraints on gathering firsthand information. In such instances, interpretations from others who have observed, listened to or been a part of the case being studied can be useful for capturing the whole situation of a case. Creswell (1994) suggests that there are several advantages to using an interview method in these situations:

  1. It is useful when informants cannot be directly observed.

  2. Informants can provide historical information [which the researcher does not already have].

  3. It allows researcher “control” over the line of questioning. (p. 151)

Interviewing as many people as possible in the case allows the researcher to gather information that is not obvious or observable due to physical or/and time difficulties (Stake, 1995). Much of what the researchers cannot observe for themselves has been or is being observed by others. This dissertation study fully utilizes this aspect of the interview method.

Interviews can also reveal a “history” of the case that the researcher is trying to understand. Chronological history background of the case can be found in written forms most of the time. However, these materials do not often tell what happened in a process. Whatever gets written is the end product of the process. The information on what kinds of people were involved and how the decisions were made, by whom, and so on can be missing. By interviewing people who went through changes, transitions, or program implementation, the researcher can discover information which could be critical to understanding the phenomenon. Especially to get the students’ perspective, which is a primary purpose of this dissertation, interviewing students was one of the most efficient ways of understanding what they experienced in the process of the Partners HRE program at School X.

The uniqueness of the interview questions used in qualitative case studies is that the questions to informants are not uniform (Stake 1995). Unlike a survey which asks the same questions of each respondent, an interviewer has more flexibility. “[E]ach interviewee is expected to have had unique experiences, special stories to tell” (p. 65). Stake points out that before an interview, it is important to let the informants/interviewees know about the possible interview questions and uncover any concerns about the interviewing procedure. In this study a consent form describing what would be involved in the interview was distributed to students’ parents and to students through the HRE instructor at School X (Appendix F). Both students and their parents/guardians were required to give their consent before the interviews could take place. Then, the consent form was re-read to the students before starting interviews, and the students were asked if they had any questions.

According to Stake (1995), when a researcher conducts interviews, obtaining true understanding about what the informants mean by what they are saying is critical. Recording detailed information from the interviews and getting the exact words of the informants by tape recording or writing furiously are not important. However, it is important for the researcher to perceive what is meant, “to listen, to take a few notes, to ask for clarification” (p. 66). Stake believes that the most important thing is to have some time and space immediately following the interview to write interpretive commentary. For this study, in addition to tape-recording the interviews, after each interview, the researcher secured a fifteen-minute break to write comments, notes, and other helpful information from the interviews, which she could not obtain from tape-recording.


Critics of the interview method describe its limitations as follows:

  1. It provides “indirect” information filtered through the views of interviewees.

  2. It provides information in a designated “place,” rather than the natural field setting.

  3. [The r]esearcher’s presence may bias responses.

  4. Not all people are equally articulate and perceptive. (Creswell, 1994, p. 151)

The researcher does not feel these four factors are limitations in the current study. “Indirect information filtered through the views of interviewees” gives the researcher the interviewees’ point of view, such as students in this study, which this dissertation is looking for. As the researcher stated earlier, this study’s purposes are to find out (1) how much the students gained in understanding of human rights concepts and (2) in their application of human rights knowledge. It is critical that the study obtain information filtered through the view of students. The second issue, such as “information in a designated place,” is an important characteristic of the case study, bounded system (Creswell, 1998).

For the third issue, the researcher paid attention throughout the interviews. Not only reminded the students about the consent form that they signed telling them that they would not be evaluated based on the interviews. Also, the fact that the researcher was not a HRE instructor or a staff member at School X might have helped students to feel that they could be honest with her. The reader can see in couple students’ answers to show that they felt free to express that they did not remember much or did not change their attitudes or behaviors on certain topics in later part of this study. Also, the researcher dressed casually (tee-shirt and jeans) at the time of the interview to hope that the students did not see the researcher as “professional.”

The fourth issue can be a great resource to know where our informants are in terms of information acquisition for particular concepts and how much they understand of what they learn in their own terms. Also, since interview questions can be flexible, a researcher can ask follow up or clarifying questions to understand them more clearly. The use of multiple data gathering also helps to understand what informants mean. A researcher has multiple opportunities and different ways to gather information, which could be useful to respond to informants’ preferences for giving more articulate information to a researcher, i.e. verbal, written (open-ended or multiple choices), and so on.

Interviews reveal many things about interviewees. At the same time, researchers need to be aware that the informants would tell about things that the researcher cannot observe or cannot prove (Stake, 1995). So, when the researchers analyze the interview data, it is critical to validate the information from other parts of interview information or from other sources of information.
Interview for This Case Study

Interviews were done on a totally voluntary basis on May 29th and June 1st, 1998. The consent form was distributed to students and their parents before the interviews on May 5th, 1998, and both were required to agree and sign the consent form to be able to participate in this study.

Each student was interviewed individually by the researcher. Before the researcher started the interview, she explained the purpose of the interview and reminded the student about the consent form that had been signed (Appendix F). At the same time, the researcher asked if it was all right to tape record the conversation, since that made it easier for her to focus on the student during the interview. The researcher also said that if the student did not feel comfortable, she would not tape record. All of them agreed to be recorded. One thing that the researcher should mention is that when she started to ask student these interview questions, one particular question was modified. Originally, the researcher planned to ask student whether HRE was important or not. She changed this question to “Do you think Human Rights Education is important, so so, not important, or not sure,” then she asked them why they thought as such.

Interview Procedure

Sixty-seven 6th and 7th graders who had previously gone through the Partners HRE at School X (during the1996-97 and 1997-98 school years) were invited to the interviews. Among the 67 students, 18 ultimately agreed to participate in the interviews – nine males and nine females.

Each interview took place in a conference room with one big rectangle table with chairs around it. The interview took place at one corner of the table. The sign, “Interview in progress. Please do not disturb,” was placed outside the door. The researcher sat at one corner of the table, and the interviewee sat around the corner from her (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 1 Conference Room Map




Each interviewee came to the room after getting a call from a HRE instructor to let him or her know that it was his or her turn. Before each interview, the researcher greeted the student and had an informal conversation to make him/her feel relaxed. Then, she began by reminding the student about the nature of the interview, that there was no one right answer, and she was looking for information from them to help her better understand HRE at School X. She re-read the consent form, which the students had already read and signed, and asked if the student had any questions about it. She asked each student if it was okay to tape-record their conversation, so that she could concentrate on listening, rather than taking notes. All students agreed to be tape-recorded.

Document Review

Another source that researchers can use for case study is document materials. This type of information includes public documents such as minutes of meetings and newspapers, and private documents such as journals, letters or diaries, policies, curricula (Merriam, 1988). This information can be used to verify the interview information (Stake, 1995). The advantages of it are several.

  1. It enables a researcher to obtain the language and words of informants.

  2. It can be accessed at a time convenient to researcher (an unobtrusive source of information).

  3. It represents data that are thoughtful in that informants have [had time to] [give it some] attention.

  4. As written evidence, it saves a researcher the time and expense of transcribing. (Creswell, 1994, p. 151)

Also, document information can provide records of activity that the researcher can not observe directly (Stake, 1995). It can also provide a check against informant statements. However, locating document information can be difficult sometimes. The researchers need to allocate time to look for potentially useful materials (Stake, 1995).

Of course, just like interviews, document review also has some limitations:

  1. It may be protected information unavailable to public or private access.

  2. It requires the researcher to search out the information in hard-to-find places.

  3. It requires transcribing or optically scanning for computer entry.

  4. Materials may be incomplete.

  5. The documents may not be authentic or accurate. (Creswell, 1994, p. 151)

Since this dissertation received full support from the School X principal at the time of data gathering, the researcher had full access to all school documents related to HRE and to school information reports. In addition to school documents, the researcher had access to data from a questionnaire developed by the HRE instructor, asking students what they learned through HRE (Appendix H). The instructor received consent forms signed by students and their parents before participation in HRE, to allow her use to students’ information for program evaluation. These questionnaire data were particularly helpful, since the questions gave the researcher all the content areas the HRE instructor included in her class. Moreover, the researcher gained access to other data ( from pre- and post-surveys) on human rights education developed by the Search Institute on behalf of the partners program (Appendix I).

Survey Data for This Case Study
The Search Institute conducted the surveys three different times (Appendix I). The pre-test was conducted during September 1996. The post-test was conducted during May 1997. The follow-up test was conducted during September 1997. 64 students participated in these surveys. These data were used as part of a secondary analysis by the researcher.

The survey contained 66 questions followed by 14 open-ended questions. Data collection was done on a voluntary basis. The consent form, which was a separate one from the one for the interviews, was given to each student and their parents or guardian. Both had to agree and sign the consent to participate in these surveys. Also, the survey questions were closely looked to construct the researcher’s interview questions. She intended to compare data between survey and interview to see if anything stands out.

Questionnaire Data for This Case Study

This is also secondary data. This questionnaire contained 14 questions by the HRE instructor to obtain feedback on what her students had learned during their HRE instruction. It was conducted during 1997. All the questions were open ended, which allowed students to think freely about their answers rather than select from artificial choices. 38 students participated in this follow-up activity (Appendix H). The researcher asked the HRE instructor how she decided to ask these questions. She told the researcher that she asked all topics taught during HRE and also wanted to find out what stood out for her students.

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