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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Lack of Suitable Materials

Lister (1984) stresses a lack of suitable materials, saying that since there is no established course for human rights, nobody bothers to create suitable material. Drubay (1981), Lister (1984) and Tarrow (1992) point out that the abstract language of current materials does not allow students and/or teachers to understand concepts fully; they sound dry and legalistic. Massarenti (cited in Lister, 1984), a director of the Geneva Project on the teaching of human rights, states that the problem is the elitist style of documents, which does not attract common people to actually put these concepts into practice. Human rights concepts must be presented to teachers and students in a way that they can make connections.

Second, materials need to address the contradictions among the rights (Tarrow, 1992). For example, individual rights versus group rights; in some case to protect a certain right of individual can cause violation of group rights. Not addressing possible contradictions between rights can lead to sense of hypocrisy and people start to feel human rights is just lip service. When contradictions are addressed, the concepts of human rights can be not only the ideal and utopian thought which people only wish for, but also the concepts that people can work toward for the betterment of all people.

HRE as Hypocrisy

Lyseight-Jones (1991) says that hypocrisy will always be an enemy of HRE. If the school as an organization does not take seriously what they are teaching to their students and reflect it in interactions among students, between students and teachers, between teachers and parents, it will only create a double standard. And that is the message that students will get from HRE. Schools must be ready to accept and reflect fundamental principles of democracy and fundamental human rights when they decide to put HRE into practice (Misgeld, 1994).

HRE as a Utopian, Idealistic Concept

Meintjes (1997) used the word “idealistic” to explain the situation. He argues that if students are taught about respecting authority and revering the nation’s founders and their successors without fail, then democracy, civil rights and political rights are only concepts. Students learn them, yet they cannot practice them. This means that the concepts will only be used by people who speak from theoretical points of view which do not threaten any part of the social system.

The concepts of human rights are more accepted by people when they are presented by scholarly and/or religious figures as medium, rather than by educators at school (Reardon, 1988). Introduced by scholars and religious figures, these concepts by being abstract become less threatening to the people, especially at a political level. This gives people the impression that the concept and achievement of human rights for all people is utopian (usually in the pejorative sense). This is even true of some people who consider themselves human rights educators.

Introducing Politics into Education

HRE can be “seen as introducing politics into the schools” (Misgeld, 1994, p. 244). It is often times said that educators are afraid to teach human rights at school (Magendzo, 1994; Misgeld, 1994). Education for peace, which includes HRE, is ultimately political education and education for citizenship. Reardon (1988) states that this is the heart of the problem. Especially at public school, teaching certain values is avoided by the educators. However, the researcher believes that any kind of education teaches certain values and cultures reflected in the curriculum. It is almost impossible not to each values when educators try to teach/educate students in various subject areas.

School Un-Readiness

Meintjes (1997) points out that a culture of resistance or struggle could already exist within formal educational settings. Magendzo (1994) believes that school culture, teaching practices, and the nature of teacher-student interactions can be a reflection of how people view the educational system, whether hierarchical or democratic. When the concepts and values of human rights (democratic) conflict with existing school culture and values (hierarchical), it is more difficult for schools to accept HRE, because people, including who go to, work at and support school, have conflicting cultures and values with human rights (Magendzo, 1994).

If a school is not ready to be an organization which reflects human rights concepts, then, introducing the concepts could bring organizational and social reform. This will be a real threat to people who are not willing to change. Misgeld (1994) states that the biggest obstacle for HRE is a high degree of social acceptance of human rights violation. In many countries, including the United States, resistance to human rights violations seem weak and not supported by the people.

During World War II, Makiguchi (1984) said that the worst enemy of human beings is not the people who violate others’ rights, but those who keep silence when they see these violations. Of course, people who practice such violations are bad. However, according to Makiguchi, if people know about the actions being taken against humanitarian values and do nothing about it, then it is worse than when people are practicing them without knowing the actions are wrong.

Resistance by Teachers

Lyseight-Jones (1991) states that the key for delivering HRE is teachers who are willing and motivated. However, Tarrow (1992) points out that “teachers have been unable or unwilling to find appropriate ways of introducing the subject in their classrooms on a regular basis” (p. 31). Frequently, the reason why HRE is not applied in school education is the issue of time. Teachers simply have too many things to do besides their teaching. But if HRE at the primary school is mainstreamed instruction, then HRE will not be an additional subject area that teachers have to teach.

Rather, as an everyday activity, HRE will be intertwined into the school curriculum and hidden curriculum, which teaches values and cultures of the society, as the researcher mentioned in the earlier section. A whole school and all members of staff of the organization will be the role models as persons who respect and embrace human rights. When this type of education is accomplished, students naturally respect everybody’s rights. Although HRE has both recognition and legitimization at the highest levels, such as at international and government, to be able to achieve its goal, it must begin and make an impact at the school level.

To achieve this requires getting teachers more involved at the development stage. This involvement gives teachers a sense of ownership toward the curriculum and education itself. Then, HRE is more likely to make a difference and to have an effect at the school level. When teachers feel more ownership and involvement in the process of implementing the curriculum in their classroom, then HRE gains more teachers’, grass-roots-level, support. Without support by the people who are actually going to carry out the program, nothing will come of it.

Moreover, teachers transmit social norms to their students as well as teach subject areas. If the concepts of human rights conflict with social norms, teachers feel uncomfortable or resistant to teaching human rights (Lyseight-Jones, 1991). Although school administrators have the authority to implement human rights in the curriculum at their schools, many are concerned about community reaction. If their communities interpret human rights as a threat to their social norm, there is a possibility of resistance or more aggressive reactions from these constituents. It means that the human rights educator may be working for social and cultural change which is not readily acceptable to people, including their peers, parents and students (Lyseight-Jones, 1991).

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