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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Comparing with Purpose of HRE

In the section “why human rights education is needed” in Chapter Two, the researcher pointed out the HRE has received increasing attention to solve problems non-violently (Misgeld, 1994; Sime, 1994). This study shows that the students who went through HRE are clearly changing their attitude and behaviors toward violence; such as domestic violence; child abuse; violence towards different racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, and gender groups. As Sime states, the students felt that HRE was informative for them to find out about their own and others’ human rights. They strongly believed that other people should take HRE if they have not yet done so.

Misgeld (1994) pointed out that HRE constitutes action leading towards cultural transformation and the achievement of a just society. When the researcher had a chance to talk to a public relations person at School X (refer to the time table, Appendix L), she believed that the reason why the school detention rate has gone down each year was because students at the school who went through HRE instruction had changed their behaviors at school. This is a wonderful example of students’ action leading towards cultural transformation at school.

Comparing with Objectives of HRE

The researcher introduced HRE objectives in Chapter Two. They are (a) to make people aware of their basic rights based on the UDHR and (b) to educate students about moving from human rights knowledge to action, including decision-making skills. The students gave a lot of examples of their knowledge of their basic rights based on the UDHR (Chapter Four), as well as examples of ways they were taking action for their own and others (including children overseas) rights. When the researcher asked in the interviews and the instructor’s survey how students changed their attitudes and behaviors towards certain issues, the students presented their thought processes concerning how they had changed or had not changed based on their knowledge and experiences. For example, as the researcher mentioned in the previous section, quite a few students changed their actions against discrimination issues. Their attitudes towards different races, gender roles, sexual orientation, disabilities and so on would be those examples. However, at the same time, there were certain issues that the students had difficult times to change their actions. Even though most students changed their attitudes towards child labor, there were several students who had difficult times to change their behavior as consumers. It was so attempting for them to buy products which used child labor. Another example would be their attitudes toward TV programs and music which contain violence, especially music. Many students expressed that they were not going to change what they listened. They thought that it was their rights to listen what they want to. These are great examples of how students gain knowledge about human rights and their action skills for human rights violations.

Comparing with HRE Goals at Elementary School Level

In Chapter Two, the researcher introduced HRE goals at the elementary school level by Meintjes. The goals included students’ ability to “express confidence and recognize responsibility and influences in both the decision and its impact” (1997. P. 78). The researcher wishes that the reader could have been at the interview sessions when the students were describing their experiences of HRE. She felt that all students (except one student who got too nervous and could not tell her much of his experience), talked about their experiences with excitement. Most of the time, she did not have to ask all the questions that she had prepared for the interview, because the students were happy to share without being asked what they learned, what they did, and what they were doing because of HRE.

The researcher believes that this is evidence of their confidence and their sense of responsibility towards human rights issues at school, in their community, and in a global sense. Several students expressed their feeling of responsibility for their well-being, and freedom from discrimination. The researcher was impressed by their skills to process what was going on, analyze, and make their decisions as to what they could do in the situation.

Comparing the Findings with the HRE Approach

The HRE instructor in this study used the international standards approach (Reardon, 1995) as her framework for instruction. She based her class topics on the UDHR, which was clearly reflected in students’ comments in the interviews as well as a conversation that the researcher had with the instructor (refer to time table, Appendix L). She introduced how the UDHR was developed by acting the play of Eleanor Roosevelt (based on the conversation with the instructor and the Partner’s training meeting). She set the tone concerning what human rights are. As Lister (1984) stated, she used the UDHR as an actual guideline and measurement of human rights violations that the students talked about in their classroom. Reardon (1995) pointed out that the UDHR gives students guidelines not only for their own rights and freedom but also for the rights of groups and humankind. This must be helpful for the instructor in conveying to her students a point about their responsibility towards others and for world community.


When the researcher re-visited School X in 2001, three years after her interviews, she still heard from school teachers about the effect of HRE on the students. Unfortunately, neither the school principal, who initiated the effort to incorporate HRE into the school mission, nor the HRE instructor was still working at School X. However, several teachers inherited HRE at School X and are keeping HRE alive. As the researcher mentioned earlier, the school public relations person, who has been working at School X since its opening, believed that the climate of this school changed quite a bit.

The researcher believed, before this study, that the holistic values approach of HRE (Reardon, 1995) would work the best to educate students. Although her belief is still there, she recognizes that the international standards approach worked very well with School X students. She cannot deny how much these students learned and retained about human rights and how much they have done for human rights issues in their daily lives. There is clear evidence to illustrate that the HRE that they went through changed something in them. Even though these students still have a lot to learn and more things they can do, they have been doing many things for their own and others’ rights and to make the “world” a better place.

It would be interesting to the researcher in the future to do a comparative study between students who went through HRE and those who did not. The present study was to understand the students’ experiences with this specific HRE program and to find out their perspectives about what topics and learning methods were effective for them. Thus, no attempt at comparison, except with previous research, was made. It would also be interesting to examine if there would be any difference in students’ understanding of human rights concepts depending on which HRE approaches are applied. This study introduces the historical approach (“Facing History and Ourselves’ Program” by Brabeck, et. al., 1994) and the international standards approach (one is the case by Wade, 1994; another is this study). The researcher is curious to see how the holistic values approach and the reconstructionist approach would work for students’ learning about human rights issues and affect their behavior based on their learning.


The findings of this present study suggest that instructors of HRE should focus upon the followings to have the most impact upon students retaining knowledge about their HRE and being about to apply it in their daily lives.

  • Placing HRE in the students’ context is critical for them to remember key concepts and to act upon them.

  • Drawing the concepts from the UDHR as well as the Convention of the Rights of the Child that relates to the issues of children is necessary.

  • Certain human rights issues, such as discrimination and prejudice, poverty and hunger, and injustice, are more important to this age child than are others.

  • Drawing on real life examples of human rights violation and abuse has a powerful impact upon the students of this age.

  • That given above, students of this age will act upon their learning in their daily lives, that they can transfer knowledge to action.

  • That HRE can be used as a means to impact and change the overall ethos of an elementary school and to make it more human centered.

The researcher was impressed by several students who were still working for human rights issues a year after the instruction, especially with the student who had been working at the Human Rights Library at the University of Minnesota. She felt confident that if the instructor could make human rights issues as close to the students’ lives as possible, they have abilities to transfer their knowledge to actions. School X showed the great example of what HRE could do to transform school culture as well. As the researcher mentioned before (also refer to time table, Appendix L), one school staff who had been with School X since its founding told the researcher that she had seen less conflicts among students and less number of detention compared to the previous years. She believed that it was because students went through HRE and learned to respect each other more.

This finding could be a great resource for instructors who are thinking about implementing HRE at their schools. To receive a support from school administrator is more than critical for HRE implementation. The researcher hopes that this case study would help and encourage school teachers, administrators and educators to consider using human rights concepts into their school curriculum and school goals.

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Appendix A

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims

THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

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