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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Question 1

The first question asked if the students treat people differently as a result of HRE. One student answered “no,” two students answered “sometimes,” and the rest answered “yes.” The reason why one student said “no” was that he or she trusted people even before the HRE and did not change his/her mind toward people or how he or she treated people. The results are shown in Table 2: Treat People Differently.
Table 2: Treat People Differently







General Behavioral Change. There were several general terms for behavioral changes. For example, five students answered that they would help people more now than before, 9 students mentioned being nicer, kinder, and more caring toward others. Five students said that they wanted to treat others with more respect. None of those answers included specific ways of treating others more nicely, kindly or with more respect. However, they showed that HRE did have somewhat of an impact on their behavior in general.

Specific Behavioral Change. Other answers included more specific behavioral changes, such as: not fighting with others (seven students); teaching others not to fight (2 students); not doing certain things to others, i.e. no laughing, no talking behind people’s backs, no name calling, no making fun of others, (total of 15 students); and not discriminating against certain groups of people, e.g. toward “different skin color,” fat/over weight people, and people with deformity or disability (8 students). Some students answered that they were doing something now for certain people, e.g. teaching others not to fight (2 students), doing something for poor/homeless people (3 students), and standing up for people who were put down and paying more attention to what was happening around them (2 students). Two students mentioned their behavioral change in the classroom, such as respecting teachers and doing their work in class so that others can learn.

Question 2

This question asked how their “veil of ignorance” had been lifted in regards to human rights and responsibilities. The HRE instructor told the researcher that the term “veil of ignorance” was used in her class representing unknown or unseen knowledge to the students.

Behavioral Change toward Others. Seven students mentioned their behavioral change toward others because of HRE. The answers included “not teasing other people who are different,” “treating people with respect,” and “being responsible.” Two students mentioned that their ideas changed toward discrimination issues, such as any kinds of differences among people and gender role. Then, there were a lot of cognitive and behavioral changes and increased knowledge related to child labor issues.

Specific Human Rights Knowledge. Five students pointed out specific human rights knowledge acquired through HRE. They were right to education (3 students, CRC article 28, UDHR article 26), right to equality (UDHR article 1), and right to rest and leisure (CRC article 31, UDHR article 24). 14 students said that they learned and gained knowledge about child labor (CRC, article 32). Four students mentioned that they changed their ideas about refugees and immigrants (CRC article 22, UDHR article 14), while homelessness (2 students, CRC article 2 and possibly 20, UDHR article 25), deformity (1 student, CRC article 2 and 23, UDHR article 2), and obesity (1student, CRC article 2, UDHR article 2) were also mentioned.

Cognitive, Value, and Behavioral Changes Related to Child Labor. Four students said that “child labor should be stopped” (CRC, article 32) and another said that children needed to go to school (CRC, article 28; UDHR, article 26). They were all child labor related answers, and some students mentioned how they were trying to stop child labor. They were “don’t buy Nike and Disney product,” “don’t buy anything made by children,” and “always think before I buy.” These are things that these students felt they could do on a daily basis protesting against child labor.

Question 3

The question asked about students’ perceptions on aged/elderly people. The researcher believes that indirectly, the HRE instructor was asking her students how they changed their perception toward elderly people.

Emotions and Thoughts toward Elderly. Five students shared how they felt about or treated older people, for example, “I care much more about older people,” “I have a lot of respect,” and “I have nothing against old people.” 18 different adjectives were used to describe elderly people, such as nice (8), loving (5), kind (4), wise (4), caring (3), smart (3), and beautiful (3). Three students were referring to their grandparents or grandmother. Some students listed physical characteristics of elderly people, such as gray hair, no teeth, shakiness, etc.

Attitude toward Elderly. There were several positive attitudes expressed towards elderly people. They were; five students mentioned that the elderly people knew more about life. Two students said that they made great friends, and another two students said that their age did not matter. At the same time, there were some negative/sympathetic attitudes toward elderly people. Four students said they felt sorry for them and thought that elderly people needed help, and one student said some elderly people were mean.

There were other kinds of attitudinal changes toward the elderly. The students (eight) now think that elderly people can do and be anything that other people can and do whatever they want to. All of them thought before HRE that elderly people could not do anything by themselves and needed help all the time. After HRE, one student said, “They don’t just sit around and do nothing all day.”

Possible Behavioral Change. Four students mentioned that they would like to help out elderly people whenever they could and however they could. This is definitely an attitudinal change. However, the researcher believes that it could also lead to behavioral change since they are expressing their willingness to help out the elderly.

Question 4

This question addressed stereotypes that the students had toward people prior to HRE.

Stereotypes in General. Three students said that they never stereotyped anyone prior to HRE. They all said that they treated other people nicely and fairly. They believed that differences did not matter to them. Two students mentioned that they stereotyped people a lot. One of them said that he or she talked about people and how they looked. Two other students said that they often called people names a lot. One of them said that he or she wanted to apologize to those people. Three students wrote that when they saw people who were obnoxious and rude, and had no manners, they could not stand them.

Stereotypes toward Specific Groups. The most mentioned group that students stereotyped was over-weight people. Seventeen students said that they stereotyped if people were over weight. They thought that obese people were lazy, ugly, and some mentioned “like a pig.” After the HRE, some thought that they should not laugh at them. Other comments included “should not talk about them,” “they deserve respect,” “they should be proud of who they are.” The second most mentioned group was homeless people. Nine students commented that they had some stereotypes about poor or homeless people. How they stereotyped included “dirty,” “crazy” and “stupid” among others. After HRE, three students felt that these were the people who needed help, and they should not laugh at them.

The third group students mentioned stereotyping was elderly people (eight students). The students thought that old people were “dumb,” “crazy,” and “mean,” etc. Four students talked about each of the following groups: poor people, people with deformity and people with disability (physical and mental). Regarding people with deformity, the students said that they were “ugly,” “hurt themselves,” and were “dumb.” About people with disabilities, the students said “dumb” and “weak.”

Interestingly, stereotypes of race, gender, and sexual orientation were little mentioned. One student for each category said that he or she had a stereotype toward these groups.

Question 5

The first part of question 5 asked why someone discriminates against another person or groups of people. Ten students answered “because they were different from other groups,” for the first question. They said that if people did not like the way others looked, they could discriminate against them. Nine students wrote that they stereotyped because of race difference. They were talking specifically about skin color. The researcher believes that here race is defined by color of people’s skin, not necessarily how people identify themselves or what race they think they are. “Looking like” a certain race seems to be an important factor here.

The other reason that was mentioned a lot was jealousy (nine students). They thought that the reason why some people discriminated against others was because others had something that they did not have. Another much-mentioned reason was that people were trying to look cool. Since no questions asked why the students thought these were the reasons, the researcher could not know why nine students thought being cool was the reason. The only guess that the researcher has is that since this questionnaire was filled out by 5th and 6th graders, “being kind” to others could mean “being a nerd” for the majority of people in that age group. Therefore, people discriminate against or are mean to others to be “cool.”

Eight students thought that because people who discriminated against others had not had HRE yet, they did not know any better. Three students among nine said that these people were ignorant. Four students said that people like to boss around others and think that they are better than others. There were a few answers that three students mentioned for each of them. They are; by discriminating against others, they feel better and more powerful; they simply do not like others; they don’t like themselves; they discriminate against others based on how they talk, their different accents and languages. Related to the last one, two students thought that people discriminated against others based on a different culture.

The second part of the question asked “if you found yourself acting in a discriminatory manner toward another person, what could you do to eradicate those discriminatory feelings?” The most mentioned answer was to ask a person if they could be friends (eighteen students). They pointed out that if they became friends to people against whom they discriminated, they felt that they could eradicate their discriminatory actions. 17 students said that they would say “sorry” or talk to people so that they would feel more comfortable.

Eleven students said that one should think before they speak or act. Several students mentioned how they were going to do it. For example, five students said that they should either “stop,” “hold my breath” or “count to 10” before saying anything or reacting to certain situations. Four students said that they would think how the other person feels before they say anything and in general, “don’t say anything bad about others.” Seven students mentioned that they should say something good about other people or say nothing, if they cannot say nice things about the individual(s).

Seven students pointed out that they tried to remember what they learned in HRE, or should take HRE again. Seven other students said that they would talk to a teacher, “human rights person,” or someone and ask for help. Both answers show that students are looking for opportunities to talk about their feelings and seek for some guidance to change their feelings towards other people.

Question 6

This question asked students to describe what they had learned about the living conditions of children in other countries. There were a lot of feelings about children in other countries expressed by the students. Sadness for the children was the most commonly expressed feeling by five students. One student expressed a feeling of confusion; “I don’t know what to say.” Three students said that the living condition of these children “was horrible and very scary.” The researcher can comfortably say that the students had remembered the negative living conditions of these children and felt bad for them. At the same time, the students wished for a better life for the children and wished that they could help them. Two students expressed their appreciation for their own parents having given them great lives and for their situation. They felt fortunate to have comfortable living and caring parents. The fact that they did not have to go to work every day and could come to school and could get their education.

The students also described why they felt sad and bad for the children, and wanted to help. Nineteen students mentioned that children around the world lacked basic human needs, such as shelter, clothes, and food (CRC, article 27; UDHR, article 25). 18 students pointed out that children had to work for long hours; i.e. 16 to18 hours a day (CRC, article 32). Quite a few of them mentioned children’s working condition, such as the absence of a toilet or bathroom (CRC, article 6), cheap labor for long hours of work (CRC, article 32), dangers of picking up dirty needles and carrying heavy bricks on their heads, and so on. One student listed American corporations, which use child labor, such as Nike, Disney, and some rug companies.

Sixteen students mentioned related health issues. Among them, there were “no clean water” (CRC, article 6), “malnutrition” (CRC, article 27), and “no health care” (CRC, article 24). 12 students said that children were not getting education (CRC, article 28). Among them, two students used a term “right to education.” These two answers were often compared to the American situation. For example, for health related issues, a couple of students said that if these children were in the US, they could be cleaner, and regarding the educational issue, some students mentioned, “they don’t get to go to school like we do.”

Ten students mentioned child abuse (CRC, article 19). Eight students said that some children were beaten by adults and eventually die. One student remembered that children were sold by their parents to provide food for rest of their families. Another student said, “We are just using and abusing [them by] wasting food and water when kids are starving to death all around the world.” This was an interesting point for the researcher since she heard a similar thing from Dr. Arun Gandhi, who said in his lecture: when we waste any resources that we use in our daily activities, such as food, water, and supplies around house and offices, we are participating in human rights violations, because so many people are involved in cultivating, developing and creating those things. He calls such behavior “passive violence.” The researcher was surprised to hear a similar comment from a 6th or 7th grader. Other answers were poverty, lack of human rights, refugees, and lack of right to leisure.

Question 7

Question number 7 asked if students had a different perception of immigrants and refugees after HRE, and what the difference was. With one exception, all students said that they had changed their perception about immigrants and refugees after HRE. The one who said “no,” did not say why. Because data was provided by the questionnaire that the HRE instructor conducted right after the instruction, the researcher did not have a chance to ask follow up question. Therefore, the researcher cannot tell whether he or she did not have any different ideas about this population before HRE, or just simply did not want to change anything after. Among the students who said that they had changed their perceptions toward this group, answers were that their feelings toward immigrants and refugees had changed because of something that the students had learned about them. There were three different kinds of feelings toward immigrants and refugees. The first one was negative feelings that were expressed by a couple of students. They were, “it is a bad idea for refugees and immigrants to come here, because the US is getting crowded,” and “they should not [leave their home countries].” If they have food, family [and] love, that’s all [they] need.” Especially regarding the second answer, the researcher was curious to find out the student’s definition of “enough food” and “family.” However, since this survey was conducted a year before her interview, and she could not identify who the student was, and was not able to find out.

Six students expressed positive feelings toward immigrants and refugees. Some examples are “[I am] glad that they came to the US for their safety,” “[I] wish they can come to our state” and “[I do] not have any negative feeling toward them.” One student said that refugees and immigrants were strong and survivors. There were also sympathetic feelings. A couple of students said that they felt sad and sorry for refugees and immigrants. The researcher believes that this comment was mainly addressed to refugees (for definitions, refer Appendix C). Three students expressed that now they understood what refugees and immigrants were going through and how hard their lives had been. Four students emphasized their feeling of responsibility not to participate in discrimination, and appreciation for their own lives. Three students out of four mentioned that they should not “laugh at refugees and immigrants” and not take advantage of them. Again, the researcher would like to have had a follow up question asking what he or she meant by not taking advantage of refugees and immigrants, but this was not possible.

Besides the students’ feelings, there were quite a lot of learned knowledge that they mentioned. Four students said that they had never heard about refugees and immigrants before HRE. One student made a determination that he or she would pay more attention and take events seriously around the world. Five students answered that they had learned for the first time why refugees and immigrants left their countries. Other answers included “some people were trying to kill them,” “they were kicked out from their own countries” and “they came to another country for [a] better life.” Among these reasons, there were the feelings toward children, such as “children were not able to get an education,” “it was bad for children” and “they needed better care for their children.”

Several students mentioned that they had misunderstandings about refugees and immigrants before HRE and how they had changed. Nine students said that they had misunderstandings about how refugees and immigrants affected the US economy. Before HRE, these students thought good jobs were all taken by them, or that they came for welfare. Now they said that they know refugees and immigrants can not only take care of themselves but are also contributing to the US economy. One said that they “pay more tax than Americans,” and another said, “they don’t get paid a lot.”

Another misconception was that being a refugee equaled being homeless. Two students stated that before HRE, they thought this group of people was “dirty, poor, and stupid, just like homeless people.” However, now, the students “understand that they had to flee their countries” due to fear of danger or because they were forced to leave.

There were also three students who mentioned that refugees and immigrants added culture to the community. The students defined culture as food, clothes, dance, holidays and plays. Three other students stated that now they saw refugees and immigrants “as human being just like them.” One student said that the “whole world is immigrants.”

Question 8

This question asked if students regard their music and television shows differently compared to before HRE. This question was the most interesting question in this survey for the researcher. She could see the struggles of students’ decision making about what they should think about their music and television shows for this particular topic. Fifteen students said “no,” they have not changed their behavior toward choosing their music and TV program. The researcher looked into their answers based on behavioral changes or their absence, in choosing music and TV shows.

First, the researcher looked at TV programs. About 68% of the students said that they had changed how they choose TV programs. Among them, 6 students stated that they had completely stop watching television. 10 students said that they did not watch violent programs any more. They defined violent programs as those involving physical violence and verbal violence, including talk shows that were disrespectful about certain people or groups of people, and/or discriminated against others. One student believed that watching violent programs made children violent.

32% of students said that they had not changed what they watched. Among those, three students said that although they had not changed their TV program selections, they were more aware of what was happening in the program, e.g. bad language and killing people. One student said that he or she had a right to watch whatever he or she wanted. Another student thought that other people would not change their minds so that there was no use in changing his or her behavior to select “appropriate” TV programs.

It was more difficult for students to choose different types of music. 50% of students said that they changed their music selection, and another 50% said that they still listened to whatever they had been listening to previously. The answers to the question about choosing different types of music were pretty general, e.g. listening to different music and choosing very carefully. However, several students were more specific. One of them said that he or she would not choose music, which was rated R or Parental Guidance. Another student said that he or she did not listen to any music, which included killing people.

The other 50% of the students said that they had not changed their behavior in terms of selecting different music. One interesting thing was that most of them commented: “I still listen to rap.” The researcher has no background of what the HRE instructor taught regarding what were “bad” and “good” music, however, she could easily assume that rap was defined as “bad” music, because most of them pointed out that they still listened to it. One student said that although he or she had not changed his or her music selection, he or she was not being negatively influenced. Another student said that he or she was much more aware of the lyrics of the music.

Question 9

This question asked whether students changed their attitudes towards dating and violence and if so, how. All students answered that they had changed, including one “sort of.” One student said that “I never thought that in teenage relationships, there was violence and abuse.” Eighteen students mentioned about how they would avoid violence in their relationship. Eight students would “walk away from the situation.” Five students said that they would tell or/and get help from someone, and four students simply did not want to have any violent relationship.

Ten students mentioned that they would treat others, i.e. their boyfriend or girlfriend, with respect. In return, they believed that they would be treated respectfully. Related to the previous answer, nine students stated that they wanted to be treated well and treat others nicely.

Eight students said that now they were aware of the possibility of an abusive relationship. All eight of them said that they would get to know their partner first and decide later whether they would go out with that person or not. A couple of students pointed out how they were going to predict whether their partners could potentially be abusive; for example one said or her family and friends; asking him or her not to go to school and proposing to disappear; and verbally putting him or her down. Related to the previous answer, six students mentioned that they needed to do whatever they wanted to do when they dated someone. For example, three students said that they needed to see whomever they wanted, and another three students said they needed to get their education and graduate.

A total of nine students mentioned physical and verbal (passive) abuse. Four of nine mentioned passive violence leading to physical violence (Appendix C for definition). Some examples of passive violence would include laughing at a person, talking about someone, and yelling at people. One student said, “you can end up being beaten and dead sometimes.” The researcher was impressed by the students’ ability to make the connection between physical and passive violence. Four students pointed out that they changed their ideas about starting to date; now they would like to wait a longer.

Question 10

Question 10 asked whether students changed their attitudes and behaviors as consumers after learning about child labor. Few students seemed not to understand the question and answered for different kinds of questions. 46% of students said that they had changed their attitude and behavior as consumers with regards to child labor. They all said that they checked where products were made and looked for a certain mark symbolizing that child labor was not used. Quite a few of them named specific brand names for clothes and shoes that they would avoid buying. A couple of students mentioned that although they did not have buying power as customers, because their parents bought clothes and shoes for them, they told their parents what not to buy. Two students among those who changed their behaviors said that they asked stores if they were aware of child labor.

40% of students said that they had not changed their behavior as consumers while more than half of them changed their attitude toward child labor. Those who changed their attitude but were not able to change their behaviors said that they were aware of child labor and sometimes knew the products were made by children. However, it seems that it was difficult for them to stay away from especially popular brands. One student did not really answer the question, but addressed how people should question and pay attention to what they were buying. This student could possibly have changed his or her behavior as a consumer.

Question 11

This question addressed whether the students changed their attitude towards their own and others’ education and if so, how. Four students commented in general, such as “all kids need education, because they will be the people running the world.” Others stated their answers in terms of their own education, separately from others. Specifically 23 students said that they now care more about their education than before. Most of them said that they did their best and studied harder. Several mentioned that they tried not to speak during the class, so that they could actually study. These students were at the same time caring about others’ education as well, not disturbing others’ education.

Twenty two students mentioned changing their attitude towards others’ education. The researcher looked into two different groups of others. One was other children overseas and another was students’ peers at school. Eight of them said that they cared about education for children overseas. Among them, two answers were connected to child labor. Comments were “kids all around the world need education,” and the student felt strongly that it was wrong when children were not able to go to school.

Fourteen students stated that they cared about their peers’ education in their classroom. Few students said that they would help their friends. Several students decided not to disrupt class. They realized that their peers had “a right to education,” and therefore, they should not talk or make jokes during their classes. The researcher was rather surprised to see that the number of students who felt responsible for their peers’ education was larger than the number who changed their attitude toward a right to education for children abroad. Because child labor was such a popular and well remembered topic among these students, the researcher thought that they would talk more about children in other countries.

One student made a very important comment about changing his or her attitude and behavior towards one’s own and others’ education. However, after while, the student said, the peers made fun of the student. Now, this student does not want to take respect for his own or other’s education seriously. This illustrates an important point about how difficult it is for this age group to maintain their changed behavior. Especially during teen-age years, peer pressure is enormous. Changing one’s attitude and behavior to be “a good student” could be interpreted as being a “nerd” or “not cool.” This points out the importance of reaching out to as many students as possible, and starting earlier.

Question 12

The question asked how the students changed in regards to the differences and similarities between men and women. This did not specifically ask them about either attitudes or behavior. The researcher divided the answers into attitude toward men/women and ideas about gender role. Answers from all students included an idea about gender roles, or what men and women could and should do. They were almost identical in terms of saying “men and women can do [the] same things.” The students listed what men could do including non-traditional work, such as “taking care of babies” and “doing house work.” Also they listed what women can do, including “going to work” and having a non-traditional job. Women’s non-traditional work included being an engineer, a fire fighter, a president, and so on. One student mentioned that now he or she believed that men and women should get equal pay. Several students also expressed their attitude change toward the opposite sex. They were respecting each other, being nice to each other, and “not hitting women,” which also includes behavioral change.

Question 13

This question was a good wrap up question. It asked students in what way HRE was beneficial to them. There were thirteen non-specific, very general comments on how HRE was beneficial to the students. They included: “I learned a lot” (7), “I did not know anything about human rights before” (2) and “now I can teach other people” (2). These answers did not include any specific concepts that they had learned or how exactly HRE was beneficial to them.

Then, there were twenty students who said that HRE helped them to better themselves. These comments included feeling better about themselves, treating others with respect, and caring about their education more. A couple of students identified how they were treating others better; one was trying to stop talking about people, and another was trying to stop making fun of people. Seven students mentioned that HRE was or would be beneficial to other people.

Forty one comments were related to specific concepts of human rights. The researcher further categorized these in groups. The most mentioned specific concept was child labor (16). The answers included simply learning about children’s rights, doing something to abolish child labor, and details of what was going on in child labor. A couple of comments were related to how cheaply these children were paid for their work.

The second most frequently mentioned concept was the issue of discrimination (eight students). Most of these answers were pretty general; however, there were a couple of them who commented about what had surprised them. One student said, “People get kicked out the store just because [they] are looking at [a] CD,” and another said, “Owner kicks [them] out.” Four students commented on stereotypes. One student mentioned that he or she was trying not to stereotyping people.

Other answers included the right to education, refugees, right to a fair trial, right to safety, and so on. The researcher feels that most students felt HRE was beneficial for them in terms of knowledge of human rights issues, attitude toward self, and respect for others.

Question 14

This question asked the students to list topics that they enjoyed in human rights.

Table 3: Human Rights Topics -Questionnaire

Child labor






All of them


Right to fair trial








Freedom from abusive relationship




Child abuse


Right to education


Men / Women


Declaration of independence


This table shows the frequency with which students listed topics for this question. The researcher believes that the survey questions from one through thirteen should have helped students think about what kinds of topics they had learned about in HRE. As the reader can see, this list is consistent with students’ comments throughout the questionnaire, with the exception of the right to education. Because the right to education was often combined with child labor, it was mentioned more frequently than is shown in Table 2.

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