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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Developmental / Conceptual Framework of HRE- Reardon


Although people are the most important factor for the success of HRE, we need to also pay attention to the topics and concepts of human rights in HRE. Decisions about content depend on children’s developmental stages and people’s readiness to acquire the human rights concepts. Reardon (1995) developed a conceptual framework of HRE (Appendix D) based on children’s developmental stage. Students in grades four through six “become more aware of social relationships and more interested in social interactions” (p. 49). It appears that they only care about their relationship with their peers and gender relations. Yet, at the same time, they “pick up on the cues of the larger society, the unspoken-attitudinal and the spoken-behavioral indicators of social values” (p. 49). In other words, they are more aware of what is going on in society and the world than we think they are. Of course, developmentally, they need “guidance in interpreting the larger world, and in understanding and developing social relationships and their own place in the world” (p. 49). However, it is important for the HRE educator and other adults to believe in children’s ability to observe and absorb social consciousness at these ages.

From the HRE point of view, the core concepts at the developmental stage of later childhood (4th - 6th grade) are freedom and social responsibility (Reardon, 1995, p. 14): at this stage it is possible to introduce concepts of community and social values (p. 17). The reason is that students, at this stage, will “understand unfairness, prejudice, discrimination, and various actual rights violations, both historic and contemporary” (Reardon, 1995, p. 49). The concepts of fairness and freedom will be their foundation for looking at the situations. In addition, at this developmental level, students can also grasp more abstract conceptual ideas, and most of them have experienced what makes the abstract concepts concrete. Some human rights violations which they themselves are experiencing can be examined in relation to international standards (Reardon, 1995).

In order to connect students’ experiences with international standards of human rights, we must consider the scope of human capacity for problem solving. A developmental framework (Appendix D) gives us an opportunity to deal with both local and international human rights issues in ways appropriate to students’ developmental level. Reardon divides the levels by students’ ages. However, the prime developmental stage is whenever students have the maturity to grasp the concept of human rights. The ideal, of course, would be to have HRE from an early age so that students can start developing their human rights knowledge from the beginning throughout their development. Yet, if anybody starts to learn and develop the concepts at other times, the developmental model will fit as well.

The goal of the primary educator is to widen knowledge and to give students opportunities to experience what they have learned in the classroom (Lyseight-Jones, 1991). Reardon (1988) calls this consciousness-raising. Moreover, she states that it is important for us to see this stage as a first step toward other objectives. Students will be more involved in the use of imagination and planning, the development of values, and commitment to action. At successive developmental stages students’ consciousness-raising goes further and further. According to Reardon (1998), students’ analytical, critical thinking, value development and action skills will be more advanced. Through the developmental stages, students will expand their capacity to care, to develop a sincere concern for those who suffer, and a commitment to resolving the problems through action. These skills can be used toward self and others. Awareness infused by caring becomes concern that can lead to such commitment that one action is followed by other actions. It is a human rights educational goal to develop students’ internal and external skills towards caring about society. It is the teachers’ role to encourage ongoing and active response to the obstacles toward peace and a commitment to their resolution (Reardon, 1988).

For example, the teachers are expected to work with their students when they encounter prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, women, people with disabilities and itinerant people (among the largely disadvantaged groups) and make sure their students respect them (Lyseight-Jones, 1991). This is not an easy task.

As Lyseight-Jones states, people’s experiences will establish “the framework for the individual’s own notions of justice and equity” (p. 81). Therefore, it is important for educators to relate the knowledge of human rights to their students’ life experiences. Unless we do so, we develop our own truth and fouls depending only on our personal experiences. By introducing historical and communal experiences to our students, they can expand their knowledge and connect it to their own first- and second-hand experiences.


Approaches to HRE

Holistic Values Approach


Reardon (1995) introduces the concept of a holistic values approach for HRE. She defines this approach as education for human dignity. She looks at human dignity and integrity as “the symbiotic concepts at the center of the ethical system comprising the social values that are the essence of human rights” (p. 5). Reardon defines dignity as the fundamental innate worth of the human person. Integrity refers to a person as a whole being with physical, mental, aesthetic, and spiritual facets. McNeilly (1993), on the other hand, defines HRE as education for “human dignity, a sense of personal meaning and a recognition of the value of human responsibility from which one cannot be immune” (p. 108).

Both Reardon and McNeilly emphasize each person’s humaneness toward self and others. When society “honors the dignity of all persons and expects all its members to respect the dignity of others,” (p. 5) society will become good. Such society “provides for the expression and development of the multiple facets of the person and holds them to be inviolable” (p. 5).

This approach can be called education to become a whole person or holistic education. To implement this approach, Tarrow (1992) states that HRE cannot be an add-on subject to the already existing curriculum. Rather it should be integrated into the current curriculum throughout the subjects. In order to develop students who can respect their own and others’ human dignity and integrity, it is natural for HRE to be included in every aspect of education, including school climate, classroom, and subject areas. This type of education enables students to be themselves and to give the same inner strength to others.

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