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Episode 1: Introduction to human rights education
Host: Stephanie Knox Cubbon, Peace Education Program Coordinator, Teachers Without Borders Guest: Felisa Tibbitts, Executive Director, Human Rights Education Associates PODCAST SUMMARY Felisa Tibbitts discusses the goals and challenges of human rights education, and gives advice to teachers who want to implement human rights education in their classrooms. Goals of human rights education: • To create a value system and relationships that foster dignity, respect and nondiscrimination. • To support the implementation of human rights standards set in treaties ratified by countries. • To reach a wide range of groups and institutions, such as teachers, police, the military, civil servants, prison staff, rights holders (you, me, everyone!). Challenges for human rights education in schools: • Finding the time to integrate human rights lessons into already-full curricula. • Providing a compelling rationale for teachers to include human rights education in their curricula or lessons. • Working within the political context of a country where human rights can be associated with the “opposition,” or have negative associations. Advice for teachers: • Try to integrate human rights values into the way you carry out lessons, or link human rights to other themes. • Carefully select human rights themes and topics that are relevant and motivating to students. • First frame students’ issues, problems and concerns from a human rights perspective, and then you can lead into more technical aspects of human rights.

• If you teach in a country where human rights has a negative or politically charged association, consider teaching peace education and then try to integrate some links to human rights. • Consider the increasingly interconnected world that students are growing up in. • Know what human rights standards your country has signed onto and is obligated to fulfill. • Read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. • Consider a world without human rights. FULL TRANSCRIPT Stephanie: Some of our listeners may be new to the field of human rights education, can you explain the key principles? Felisa: The main principles of human rights education are basically about training, dissemination, and information efforts that are aimed to build a universal culture of human rights. So you need to know what human rights are when we talk about inculcating a culture of human rights. But this has to do with understanding what human rights are: fundamental freedoms, focusing on developing human dignity and really ensuring that human dignity is respected in whatever environments we’re in, whether we’re in the classrooms, or our homes, or our communities. So it’s not just about violating human rights in the sense that we might be thinking of the worst violations of human rights like torture and genocide, but also on a more positive note, thinking about the human rights value systems and its focus on human dignity and non-discrimination and respect for the others as values we want to inculcate in our relationships and ways of measuring healthiness and how we are with one another. So human rights education has a really big agenda. It’s partly around supporting the implementation of the standard for human rights, those treaties that our countries voluntarily ratify and promise to implement, but it’s also about a way of being with one another. I think the more values-oriented approach to human rights is where we see the links with peace education, which also aspires to a quality of life or a culture of relationships. But the human rights side is a bit more focused on justice. It recognizes that there can be violations of human rights promulgated by governments and it’s got this legal element too, which is something a bit different than just civics or the peace education field.


I also want to mention that human rights education isn’t just for schools. It’s not just even for public information campaigns. It has to do also with everyone in society. Governments have obligations to ensure that the people who represent them - police, prison staff, the military, civil servants - understand what human rights principles are that the government has obligated itself to uphold. If the countries ratified any kind of treaties, then people that represent the governments should know what those are vis-avie the work they carry out. It’s not just knowing, for example, that a country has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but if you’re a teacher or if you’re a social worker, what that means in terms of the jobs you carry out. So human rights education and human rights education and training, as some people say, just to make sure that we’re not just talking about schools, really is for a very diverse number of groups. The target groups include all professional groups, including teachers. It includes public education; it includes right holders, that is, you and me, people who have rights that we expect our governments to uphold to the best of its ability; and duty-bearers, which is another way of putting basically the government and everyone who represents them. It’s a very broad arena. Stephanie: What are the main challenges and opportunities for human rights education today? Felisa: The challenges for carrying out human rights education in classrooms will depend somewhat on the teacher and the country that they’re teaching in. I’m going to present some of the challenges that I know about, and I think some of your listeners will be able to identify for themselves, which are most relevant for them. I think a cross-cutting challenge that I’ve observed for teachers, and I’ve worked on with teachers in many countries, is perhaps the primary challenge: finding the time to teach human rights related lessons. Every school system has its own curricular standards. Generally speaking there’s less of a priority placed on subjects like citizenship education, which is often where you find human rights themes linked to. Even if you’re a teacher who’s creative, say you’re teaching literature, you can assign writings that relate to human rights themes, you aren’t generally able to offer a full course. This is the same situation I think with teaching peace, or other social justice oriented themes, so it’s not unique to human rights education. It’s really a challenge for anyone who is interested in this theme to find the time. What I encourage teachers to do is, keeping in mind the curricular frameworks of their countries, or the syllabi and the opportunities that are provided by their systems in terms of addressing themes like these, and keeping in mind the country that they’re working in, and the interests and needs of the students what the human rights situation is, what are the issues students care about, what are

their ages - given all that, be carefully selective about the themes that are presented to students and find the ones that will be most motivating for them as a way to at least open them up to the human rights framework and the field as a whole. There are about a dozen educators that have elaborated a list of competencies that are related to human rights education. You can find these on HREA’s website. This is still a work in progress but we’ve elaborated a very nice list of basically learner goals for human rights education, covering knowledge, values, and also behaviour and skills, which we would hope to see if someone carries out a full human rights education course. That’s almost a fantasy I have to say for the schools. I think university might be another matter. The main challenge is finding the time and then given that there probably will be just some lessons that you can really focus explicitly on human rights education, to be very selective and mindful of your students in terms of which topics you choose. Even if you want to talk about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you also want to begin not with the standards of human rights, but with issues, problems, concerns that students have already and frame these from a human rights perspective and lead them back to this normative system that the international community has established for recognizing what are violations and recognizing how we can try to promote human dignity. So there are strategies one can use in the classroom to address this, what will look like on the surface a very limited opportunity to teach human rights. I think the values of human rights can be infused pretty much almost in any classroom, in terms of how you carry out your lessons, in terms of links you make with other themes, to human rights. So you can be creative in this way. But officially speaking, there’s often a very limited reference to human rights in the national curricula, in the national standards. So that means in practice that it’s motivated teachers that really find ways to teach human rights so that you really have a critical mass of human rights related lessons that are taught . It can be overcome, but it does take a creative and motivated teacher, and of course not all teachers are motivated and creative. So a second challenge for human rights education in the school system is actually providing a really compelling rationale for teachers. Your teachers are probably a very special kind of teachers. TWB already have a very internationally-oriented perspective. And my observation is that the kinds of teachers interested to teach human rights education intrinsically are interested in international affairs, and want to see these sorts of global connections made, look at the world and see the connections between the local and the international. It’s kind of a perspective. But not every teacher is this way. So another challenge for human rights education being taught in schools, is to really

provide a convincing argument for teachers who aren’t naturally predisposed to look at the international and to see that connection. Who aren’t even necessarily predisposed to think about social problems, and maybe don’t even want to have those addressed in the classroom. And this is a challenge I’m not quite sure how to address. I have a feeling that the way that the world is evolving, the way that the world is being globalized, and education is naturally becoming such, our students are naturally becoming connected, even if they aren’t aware of it. They’re becoming connected to the world and they will need skills, including skills of values related to human rights to operate as good citizens in the international community. So, I think that the trend is towards more internationalism, naturally. But education doesn’t always anticipate those global trends, sometimes it’s the laggard. So it’s teachers like yours - teachers without borders - that maybe be more on the cutting edge of this. I think the next challenge for those of us who see ourselves as promoters of the field, to provide those rationales within our national contexts. I can speak now even to the US example for your teachers in the US. I think we have a particularly strong challenge here in the US, which relates to the third challenge for human rights education, which is basically working within the political context of your own country, where human rights can be seen in some countries, as a term for the opposition. It can be seen as a kind of dangerous term if you’re still in the period of a country where there’s conflict. Human rights can be seen as being aligned with one political perspective rather than another, rather than what it’s intended to be, which is a kind of a normative framework shared by all. So there are country contexts where human rights is seen as a highly political and potentially negative term, and that becomes a real barrier of course for having it in the classrooms, and in those countries you won’t typically find it in the syllabi. You may find human rights education being carried out by grassroots organizations, maybe teachers are volunteering in these NGOs, but you don’t typically find it in schools. And in country contexts where there’s lots of active conflict and human rights is a politicized content, you’re more likely to find peace education in schools because it’s seen as a more neutral topic. In that case I recommended educator friends of mine who are working in such contexts to, by all means, teach peace education but maybe try to find some links, a little bit implicitly, with human rights, so we don’t lose the idea of this normative framework of human rights, but you don’t necessarily call it human rights education because of these political problems.


Stephanie: Do you have any additional advice that you’d like to give to our audience with regard to implementing human rights education in their classrooms? Felisa: Firstly, I just want to thank the teachers for reflecting on where and how human rights education might be relevant for their own teaching. And also I encourage teachers to reflect on human rights education as something that would supplement what they’re already doing, say in peace education, if that’s what they’re doing, or in education for democracy. I implore you to consider human rights education by thinking about the term of human dignity. If you think about human dignity and if you can envision in your mind what that feels like, what it might look like in your teaching, I think then you’ll know how to sort of carry it forward in a way that’s going to be meaningful for you and for your students. So, my other advice for teachers in terms of human rights education and carrying it out in the classroom is to consider the world that your students are growing up in, the world that your students will eventually be grown up in and living their lives and raising their own families in. That world is a world that is going to be increasingly interconnected, and that world is a world that is going to be increasingly challenged by cultures coming more closely to one another, by differences being the norm, rather than being the exception; where the local and the international aren’t going to be very far apart, because they’re going to be right there at our computers. That’s the world we’re living in now but it’s only going to be more so. So it behooves us to really think about the world that we’re coming into and the ways we’re interconnected, and to recognize that one of the most important gifts we can give our students is their sense of place in this world, in this interconnected world, and the value of having a shared value system for living in that world, which is the gift of the human rights framework. We have an international legal framework, that’s evolving every year, that’s intended to help us coexist with one another within our countries, with our own governments, dedicating themselves to fulfilling human rights obligations, which means promoting the human dignity of their citizens, and governments also coexisting with one another in a way that’s civil and reflective of international human rights law. I mean this is the world we want to live in, and that world becomes more realistic, becomes more of a possibility, if you and I and our students understand what human rights are, what they’re intended to be. What are the standards our countries have signed onto, and are obligated to fulfil voluntarily? What are the value systems, cross-cutting religious beliefs, cross-cutting our constitutions, cross-cutting any kind of value system that we’re attached to? There’s a human rights framework that’s been derived based on our best thinking as a kind of human race, about what human dignity looks like. If we can inculcate that knowledge and that attachment to the human rights value system, I think we have a much better

chance of having a world that’s reflective of these principles. So my encouragement is to go read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, if you haven’t already done so, to consider a world without human rights. So, regardless of whether you think that human rights has meaning for you, whether you think your country has done a good job of carrying out human rights or not, consider the alternative, and then devote yourself to finding a meaningful way to infusing, at a minimum, awareness of human rights with your students, and even better yet an attachment and a commitment, to promoting human rights in your daily life, in your classroom and schools.