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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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: Introduction

Background of the Study


Following World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, P. C. Chang of China, Charles H. Malis of Lebanon, and Rene Cassin of France, with contributions from many others, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (Appendix A) (Johnson, 1998). In the aftermath of the Holocaust, it was their hope to bring an end to the human history of world war. In 1948, the UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

Garcia (1992) points out that the value of this collection of universal ethics is that UDHR transcends the laws within all cultures and nations. In other words, when unjust laws in a society cannot be changed to respect universal ethics, individuals must instead follow the universal ethics (Garcia, 1992). After the fiftieth anniversary of the development of the UDHR, we are still struggling to create a world where people fight no more. People and nations still fight in the name of peace. How can we truly utilize the UDHR and move beyond war as a means for resolving conflict?

Montessori (1972) once said that "war is caused not by arms but by man . . . [only when] weapons fall from [man’s] hand will [it] mark the beginning of a radiant future for mankind” (pp. 21 - 23). However, arms do not fall from humans’ hands, unless people drop them. To be willing to drop weapons from our hands, we must realize the importance of creating peace in non-violent ways and must have the courage to take action. We all know that there are some people who have taken such courageous actions resulting in their long time oppression by the authorities, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Aun Sang Su, and Nelson Mandela.

When people realize the importance of non-violence and act upon that concept, we shall no longer need to worry about people fighting all over the world. Despite 188 member nations in the United Nations (Appendix B), the leading organization to promote the UDHR, we are still struggling to create a respectful environment for all of humanity. The UDHR Preamble says,

Upon the freedom of the individual depends that welfare of the people, the safety of the State and the peace of the world.

In society complete freedom cannot be attained; the liberties of the one are limited by the liberties of others, and the preservation of freedom requires the fulfillment by individuals of their duties as members of society.

The function of the State is to promote conditions under which the individual can be most free.

To express those freedoms to which every human being is entitled and to assure that all shall live under a government of the people, by the people, for the people, this declaration is made.


Each one of us must educate ourselves about our rights and take responsibility for respecting others’ rights. This is the reason why the researcher became interested in how human rights were taught to people, if such effort exists. Despite the fact that United Nation has been working on numerous peace making effort, if people were not educated about it, UDHR is only a document that states hopeful ideal society. The researcher felt the need for education that teaches people about human rights and how they could take responsibility individually, which could affect larger scale in a long term.

While the researcher was only thinking about such education, she ran into her former classmate who became a director of Human Rights Center in Minneapolis area. The director shared a project on which she was working that involved an elementary school working with Human Rights Education. The researcher believed that it was her opportunity to explore what kinds of affects Human Rights Education could provide with elementary school age children.




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