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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Examples of HRE Implementation


There are only a few studies of HRE at schools in the United States. They are (a) a case study by Wade (1994) with fourth graders, (b) a case study by Brabeck et al. (1998) with eighth graders, and (c) Pudialus-Palmer study of Partners Program (1994) [Master’s Thesis]. Wade’s case study was based on a curriculum he developed with a classroom teacher in social studies, rather than a published curriculum for human rights issues.

Brabeck et al. (1998) examined the effect of a particular curriculum, the Facing History and Ourselves Program. This curriculum was developed by concerned educators in Boston, Massachusetts. The program has training sessions for teachers and provides resources and opportunities for professional development “through in-service programs, institutes and workshops” (p. 334).


Conceptual Change in Elementary Social Studies: Case Study of Fourth Graders’ Understanding of Human Rights (Wade, 1994)

Wade (1994) conducted a retrospective analysis of an ethnographic classroom action research. He re-analyzed some of the findings from his doctoral dissertation to look for a deeper understanding of “why students did or did not develop accurate ideas about human rights following a month-long unit of instruction” (p. 79-80).

Wade developed this human rights curriculum with a social studies teacher for fourth grade. The unit was a month long based on the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1959). He and the classroom teacher thought that the students could relate more to the concept if it were specifically for children. Hence, they defined human rights as “the entitlements to health, safety, love, education, shelter, food, and acceptance that should be afforded to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or physical ability” (Wade, 1994, p. 82).

The unit activities included discussion, cooperative learning, role play and simulations, and stories and books about human rights issues (Wade, 1994). Wade and the classroom teacher especially paid attention to making human rights concrete and identifiable in students’ lives (Starkey, 1986; Torney-Purta, 1984; Wade, 1994). Writing personal stories, addressing issues of rights and responsibilities in class meetings, and art and drama were used to connect human rights issues and students.

Before and after the month-long curriculum, Wade asked students the question, “What are human rights?” Then, in individual follow-up interviews three weeks after the human rights unit, he asked “What do human rights have to do with your life?” Wade pointed out that the students expressed frequent concerns for “their rights in the context of fair and equal treatment by their peers and the adults in their world” (p. 83). Although students did not use the exact word, “rights,” Wade interpreted their responses as such.

The most significant finding from Wade’s study was that “the development of student ideas [regarding human rights issues] were strongly influenced by their prior knowledge, values, interests, and motivation to learn” (1994, p. 89). According to his study, almost all students could recognize human rights issues in their lives with the assistance of lists and relevant classroom experiences. However, they could not think of examples in their daily experiences on their own. One student had an interest in current events and U.S. history. Before starting the unit, he explained to his classmates about accurate ideas on civil rights in the U.S. and South Africa. “He was the only student in the class who thought of human rights as legal protection initially” (p. 89). In the follow-up interview, he was one of the few students who referred to human rights after the unit. He also started to apply human rights knowledge to other issues in social studies and to his writings.

Another finding was that “the role of emotional salience in fostering motivation to learn and subsequent cognitive engagement [is] an important area for further research” ( Wade, 1994, p. 90). Wade admitted that the greatest errors he and the classroom teacher made in teaching human rights were not confronting the misinformation that students brought to the class and not explicitly pointing out the objectivity of the course. From students’ responses to these research questions, Wade could evaluate his and his partner’s teaching. He concluded by expressing a need for research on conceptual change, i.e., how to develop students’ “ability to apply relevant concepts to their future schoolwork and their lives as active members of their communities” (p. 92).

Human Rights Education Through the “Facing History and Ourselves’ Program (Brabeck, Kenny, Stryker, Tollefson & Sternstrom, 1998)

Brabeck et al. examined the effects of the Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO) human rights program on moral development and psychological well-being. This study used standardized instruments to measure how much the experience “promotes students’ sensitivity to the plight of others or empathy (assessed by Mehrabian-Epstein’s 1972 Empathy Scale), increases their moral reasoning (Rest’s 1979 Defining Issues Test), and heightens their social concern (Crandall’s 1975 Social Interest Inventory) without adversely impacting students’ psychological well-being: depression (Kovacs’ 1983, Children’s Depression Inventory), hopelessness (Kazdin et al.’s 1983 Hopelessness Scale for Children) or self esteem (Harter’s 1988 Self Perception Profile)” (Brabeck et al., 1998, P. 337). They also examined gender differences in these measures. The participants in this study were in eighth grade when they went through this program.

The FHAO program was developed in response to a concern about the lack of reference to human rights abuses in secondary and college level textbooks as well as about the uneven treatment of human rights issues included in textbooks during the 1970s (Brabeck et al., 1998). The textbooks also contributed little toward helping students to understand the history of human rights and abuses. The FHAO program was based on a belief in adolescents’ ability and desire to “understand true, complex historical events” (p. 334). Furthermore, it reflected a belief in the important connection between human rights abuses in the past and students’ lives now. As Bronowski (cited in Brabeck et al., 1998) commented, “the FHAO program emphasizes classroom dialogue and critical reflection on a variety of perspectives on issues” (Brabeck et al., 1998, 334). The curriculum addressed complex moral issues to “develop students’ human rights vocabularies, moral judgement and critical thinking and would not negatively impact students’ psychological well-being” (Colt, Connelly & Paine, 1981 cited in Brabeck et al., 1998, p. 334).

The FHAO program has a training program for teachers to implement this HRE. Since 1977, as of 1998, over 10,000 teachers have been trained who have taught more than 500,000 students in 48 U.S. states and Canada each year (Brabeck et al., 1998). Usually, at each school, teams are developed to work on interdisciplinary and individualized curricula based on the FHAO curriculum resources. The curriculum is a semester long and examines the Nazi Holocaust to illustrate one democracy that turned to genocide.

Brabeck et al. (1998) used MANOVA to analyze compiled data. The results indicated that discussion about human rights abuse in FHAO contributed to the development of moral reasoning and did not have a negative impact on students’ psychological well-being (Brabeck et al., 1998). In fact, moral reasoning was increased through FHAO, and the curriculum did not negatively affect students’ levels of depression, hopelessness or self-esteem. In terms of gender differences, female students outscored male students in self-report measures in empathy and social interests while there were no differences on reasoning between the two groups. Brabeck et al. (1998) concluded that “deliberate and informed discussions of human rights issues can promote moral reasoning and behavior” (p. 344).

Comparison to the Partners in Human Rights Education Program

The Partners program seems to be one that combines aspects of these two examples. The program has training sessions for teams of teachers, lawyers and community representatives who are determined to introduce this program to schools. It also provides resources (Appendix E) to help teams to implement HRE. In this sense, the Partners program is similar to the FHAO program.

However, although this program has a variety of curriculum resources, participants are not mandated to use them in the development of their curriculum. The team of a teacher, a lawyer, and community representative is free to develop their own curriculum as Wade and his co-worker did. Of use for assuring that the curriculum is appropriate.

Now, the readers were introduced to case studies, which give ideas on how these couple educators implemented HRE at their schools. Along with these examples, the readers could compare their school environment with HRE theories, which was introduced in the earlier part of this chapter. Examining how much their school environment could be supportive of HRE implementation and exploring possible obstacles in a process of implementing HRE are critical for those who are considering teaching human rights at their schools. From the next chapter, the researcher will introduce this particular study with the Partners HRE program and how School X implemented HRE. The differences between this study and previous case studies are (a) obtaining information for long term affect of HRE (interview was taken place a year after HRE instruction), (b) responding to Wade’s further research need on conceptual change, i.e. how students develop ability to apply their human rights knowledge to their school work and their lives in their communities (1998), and (c) finding out effective teaching methods from students’ perspective.



Chapter 3: Methodology

This dissertation is a part of the education evaluation project of the Partners in Human Rights Education Program. Many schools and teachers/educators are seeking ways of implementing Human Rights Education (HRE) in their curriculum. The Partners are attempting to find out, through research, what methods and content are useful and effective for teaching elementary school students about human rights. This research sought to answer two basic questions: (1) how much did the students gain in understanding human rights concepts? and (2) were they able to apply their human rights knowledge in their daily lives?

In order for the researcher to find answers to these questions, several methods were used. The researcher developed interview questions, first with a help of quantitative researcher from the Partners HRE evaluation project. In addition to the interview, as secondary analysis, the results of a questionnaire conducted by the HRE instructor and survey developed by the Search Institute, provided additional background information. These instruments are included in the appendices. These two instruments questions became a base for the researcher’s interview questions, so that the researcher could compare her interview question data and other two instruments data later. Then, the interview questions were reviewed by the researcher’s advisor to check if any questions were possibly leading students to answer certain ways. The School X HRE instructor also reviewed the interview questions, because she was one of the beneficial from this evaluation project and wanted to see if these questions would address her questions to improve her HRE instruction.

The researcher chose case study as the methodology for addressing the above questions. The proposal of this case study was submitted to the Institutional Review Board: Human Subjects Committee (IRB) on March 25th, 1998. The approval from Human Subject Committee was obtained on April 28th, 1998, and IRB code number is 9803S00146. The following discussion provides a background of case study, its history, some definitions, and criticisms.


Case Study Methodology

History of Case Study Method

The use of the case study in the United States started in the 19th century. Case studies were established by the Chicago School and had a great impact upon research in the areas of sociology and social work (Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993).



Chicago School

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, case study was the approach of choice for early sociological studies in the United States. Studies were “conducted by social workers and the first American sociologists” (Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993, p. 13). Urban ecology was the main topic of these studies, which meant to examine social evolution, “the transformation of a small and simple community to a large city with its highly complex social structure” (p. 15). The goal of these case studies was to understand how the ecological resources, such as natural environment, ethnic cultures, and dissemination of outside innovations, were integrated into the transformation of people’s lives in the communities.

Case study, as developed by the Chicago School, played an important role in finding out about people who were living in the studied environment. Dewey stated that social life is a process or a movement, which “could only be understood if the meanings assigned to it by its own actors were incorporated within it” (cited in Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993, p.16). Diesing (1972) said that the characteristics of a part were seen to be largely determined by the whole to which it belongs. The wholists argued that understanding a phenomenon required an understanding of different parts of people’s lives in the environment and their interrelationships to each other (Sturman, 1999). Salomon stated that, because this case study approach assumed that elements were interdependent and inseparable, if a change in one element occurred, everything else changed (cited in Sturman, 1999). Thus, it is critical to look at as many people and phenomena as possible in terms of the research purpose.

This type of case study can be categorized as an inductive approach (Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993). The inductive approach considers empirical details in the light of remarks made by people in the studied context, a method which “gives depth and dimension to the sociological explanation produce[d]” (p.16). Such detailed information from people provides access to the meanings and symbols embedded in the interactions of real people who live in the situation. This is the most important point in an inductive case study.


Franklin H. Giddings (F.H.G.) Club

The Franklin H. Giddings (F.H.G.) Club at Columbia University, New York, can be seen as the anti-Chicago School (Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993). Giddings and his students focused on the statistical survey, a method which gained ground in sociological case studies. The development of this type of case study provided a variety of techniques, which were intended not only to explain, but also to predict.

From this school’s point of view, case study is based on a deductive process incorporating technical procedures that could demonstrate its accuracy (Hamel, Dufour & Fortin, 1993). It required eliminating biases of the researcher and the empirical context. Therefore, methods like participant-observation, which involves a researcher’s interpretation, were avoided since they lacked rigor and were subject to personal impressions.

Current Definition of Case Study

The Chicago School and F.H.G. Club argued about the purposes of case study research. Scholars have argued that qualitative and quantitative approaches to case study are incompatible (Sturman, 1999). Because of the philosophical differences and traditions, these two different approaches draw their credibility from different courses and use different tests for validity or dependability of findings due to differing underlying assumptions. The Chicago School type of case study is closely related to qualitative or hermeneutics methodology1. The F.H.G. Club type is quantitative or positivistic methodology2.

Today, however, according to Sturman (1999), there is an acceptance that the two different traditions can work together. He points out that qualitative research is useful in developing both concepts and theories. It can also provide depth to quantitative research findings. Sturman (1999) defines case study as “the investigation of an individual group, or phenomenon” (p. 103). He states that case study is based on “the belief that human systems develop a characteristic wholeness or integrity and are not simply a loose collection of traits” (p. 103).

Merriam (1988), another leading proponent of the case study, defines it as “an examination of a specific phenomenon such as a program, an event, a person, a process, an institution, or a social group” (p. 9). However, Merriam states that case study research is defined and described from the perspective of the qualitative or naturalistic research paradigm, which defines the methods and techniques most suitable for collecting and analyzing data. She refers to case study as a basic design that can assist a variety of disciplinary subject areas and philosophical perspectives on the nature of research. Merriam considers a case study to “test theory or build theory, incorporate random or purposive sampling, and include quantitative and qualitative data” (p. 2). Although Merriam points out the possibilities of both qualitative and quantitative case studies, she believes that “research focused on discovery, insight, and understanding from the perspectives of those being studied offers the greatest promise of making significant contributions to the knowledge base and practice of education” (p. 3).

Stake (1981) defines case study, specifically qualitative case study, as “an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single entity, phenomenon, or social unit” (cited in Merriam, 1988, p. 16). He also states that “a case study is both the process of learning about the case and the product of our learning” (p. 87). Yin (1984) points out that case study is a design particularly suited to situations where it is impossible to separate the phenomenon’s variables from their context.

Merriam (1988) says that case study is heuristic. It illuminates the reader’s understanding of the phenomenon under study. It can bring about the discovery of new meaning, extend the reader’s experience, or confirm what is known. “Previously unknown relationships and variables can be expected to emerge from case studies leading to a rethinking of the phenomenon being studied” (Stake, cited in Merriam, 1988, p. 10)

To present a case study, a rich, thick description of the phenomenon under study is necessary (Merriam, 1988). Thick description came from an anthropological term and means “the complete, literal description of the incident or entity being investigated” (p. 13). Thick description includes many possible variables in the phenomenon and describes their interaction.

Different Paradigms / Types of Case Study

Interestingly, Stake (1998) says that “case study is not a methodological choice, but a choice of object to be studied” (p. 86). Because case study can be both quantitative and qualitative, there are several possible paradigms or types of studies that the researchers can utilize. According to Husen (1999), the Chicago School and Franklin H. Giddings (F.H.G.) Club, represent different paradigms of case study. He states that the criteria for selecting and defining problems and choosing the theoretical and methodological approaches will differ, depending upon the choice of paradigm.

Husen (1999) uses the word paradigm to distinguish different case studies. The first paradigm is a natural science model which emphasizes empirical quantifiable observations. This paradigm is based on analyses by mathematical tools, and the purpose of research is “to establish causal relationships, to explain (Erklaren)” (p. 32). The second paradigm is humanistic or dialectical in nature (Husen, 1999). This paradigm is “derived from the humanities with an emphasis on holistic and qualitative information and interpretive approaches (Versstehen)” (p. 32). Delthey states that the purpose of Versstehen is to “understand the unique individual in his/her entire, concrete setting” (cited in Husen, 1999, p. 33).

Merriam (1988) believes that most case studies in education are qualitative to generate hypotheses rather than quantitative and testing hypotheses. In many educational settings, it is hard to manipulate the potential causes of behaviors, and to identify variables with which to conduct hypothesis-testing research. When the variables are so embedded in the phenomenon, non-experimental or descriptive research is undertaken. This type of research looks for understanding based on description and explanation, rather than prediction based on cause and effect. Such case studies are more particularistic, descriptive, and heuristic and rely heavily on inductive reasoning with multiple data sources (Merriam, 1988).

Sturman (1999) categorizes case study as evaluative or ethnographic. The evaluative case study involves the evaluation of programs. This type of case study often utilizes condensed fieldwork rather than a lengthy ethnographic approach. The ethnographic case study involves a single in-depth study, usually with participant observation and interview, as well as a variety of techniques for investigation, which can include both qualitative and quantitative approaches.

Stake (1998) categorizes case study into three types, a) intrinsic case study, b) instrumental case study, and c) holistic case study. An intrinsic case study is undertaken because the researchers want to better understand a particular case. This is similar to phenomenology3. “The researcher temporarily subordinates other curiosities so that the case may reveal its story” (p. 88). However, unlike phenomenology, an intrinsic case study makes a generalization. This is based on an assumption that the readers not only would comprehend the researchers’ interpretations, but also would arrive at their own interpretations.

An “[i]nstrumental case study is examined to provide insight into an issue or refinement of theory” (Stake, 1998, p. 88). The case plays a role in facilitating our understanding of theory. Similar to positivistic research, in this instance a case is used to examine whether the existing theory is right or wrong. Understanding the case itself is secondary.

Holistic case study calls for the examination of the complexities of variables in the phenomenon (Stake, 1998). This type of case study looks at events not as being simply and singly caused. Rather it looks at the complexities of a system, event, or situation/phenomenon and how they are interconnected and interrelated. It looks at “the coincidence of events, seeing some events purposive, some situational, any of them interrelated” (pp. 91 -92).

This dissertation, the researcher believes, is combination of evaluative case study and intrinsic case study. As evaluation case study is characterized, this is an in-depth study of School X, using multiple information gathering techniques, including both qualitative and quantitative approaches such as interviews, surveys, questionnaires, and document analysis. The study seeks better understanding of HRE at School X and proceeds to generalizations as in intrinsic case studies’ characteristics.


Criticisms of Case Study

Hamel, Dufour and Fortin (1993) point out three major criticisms of the case study. They are:



  1. A particular case cannot explain a problem in general terms.

  2. Due to lack of evidence that a case study is representative, a case study cannot achieve generalization.

  3. Because of lack of rigor in the collection, construction, and analysis of the empirical materials that are the basis for case study, a case study has a problem of bias, such as the subjectivity of the researcher and of informants.

The researcher believes that these criticisms of case study are not problems for the kind of research case this study serves. First, the purpose of case study is to examine a specific phenomena (Merriam, 1998), as cited earlier. It is not case study’s purpose to explain a problem in general terms. Secondly, case study does not produce generalization in positivistic sense. It rather tries to reach natural generalization within the case that the researcher is studying, between the cases that studied by the different researchers, and most importantly, between the case that was studied and the situations that the readers are experiencing. Thirdly, in order to reach valid analysis, case study employs several information/data collection and validation procedures. Case study needs to conduct variety of information/data resources collections and analyze based on direct interpretation, pattern analysis, and triangulation process among the information/data. In addition, the researcher always addresses his or her biases and/or assumptions toward the topic(s) he or she is about to study. These procedures will overcome the third criticism.

Defining a Case for Study

In this study, the researcher uses Merriam’s definition of case study (1988) as “an examination of a specific phenomenon such as a program, an event, a person, a process, an institution, or a social group” (p. 9) which is bounded by time and space that is an instance of some concern, issue, or hypothesis (Creswell, 1998; Merriam, 1988).

Deciding “the boundaries of case – how it might be constrained in terms of time, events, and processes” (Creswell, 1998, p.64) – delineates a case for study. According to Shaw (cited in Merriam, 1988), the delineation of the case is itself important for what it reveals about the phenomenon and for what it might represent. A study of the case reveals how particular groups or people work with specific problems from a holistic view of the situation. The case for this study was clearly bounded by certain time and space, e.g., the time and place when HRE was implemented at School X.

Creswell (1998) points out that a challenge for some case studies is having clean beginning and ending points for the case, depending upon which phenomenon the researchers choose to study. For example, if a researcher wants to study the globalization of some community, it is difficult to say at what point the community felt the impact of the global economy and whether the progress is still taking place or has reached a final point. It is the researcher’s job to work within the contrived boundaries. In this study, the beginning and ending points were rather clear. The beginning points were when the 5th and 6th graders started taking the HRE class and ended a year after their completion of HRE curriculum, when they were in the 6th and 7th grades.

In addition, unlike positivistic research, in which subjects are selected randomly, a case study is more likely to use purposeful sampling, in which the researcher chooses informants based on his/her needs for the study (Creswell, 1998). Because researchers focus on their own and/or societal interests in certain issue(s) and/or phenomena, random sampling would be almost impossible in a case study. In this case study, the researcher needed to select informants who have gone through HRE and agreed to participate in the study.

Due to the “bounded system” characteristic of a case study, the researchers need to delineate a case purposefully. In this case, the school was chosen because HRE had been part of its mission since its establishment and the school and its teachers and administrators had been working with the Partners program from the beginning to implement HRE. This school was, at the time of the interviews, the only one that had HRE in its mission statement and had also cooperated with the Partners program. Therefore, the case for this study was chosen purposefully.

Furthermore, due to each case’s unique history, the case is a complex entity operating within a number of contexts, including the physical, economic, ethical and aesthetic (Creswell, 1998). So, in order for a case study to be able to study a complex entity with clear boundaries, it is important to ensure that the researcher will have available contextual material to describe the setting for the case and a wide array of information about the case to provide an in-depth picture of it (Creswell, 1998). For this case, the researcher was successful in obtaining historical information about the school relating to HRE from the school principal and the HRE class researcher at the beginning of the research process.

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