Resource Centre for Human Rights Education:
Teaching for Human Rights: Pre-school and Grades 1-4
What are human rights?
The doctrine of human rights states very clearly what people can claim to allow them to live decent lives. In being specific about such claims, human rights prompt people to consider what is reasonable or not in this regard. If you can see a rights claim as being reasonable then you are more likely to make such a claim when it is not met, or when it is actively being denied. It is also a claim you are more likely to meet when made by others upon yourself. It will be something you will see as your responsibility. The doctrine of human rights is at the same time, then, a doctrine of human responsibilities.
HUMAN RIGHTS ARE MINIMUM STANDARDS
This classic thought experiment helps show how important tolerance and fairness are. Not knowing how disadvantaged you might be, you would likely decree a free and equal society, that cared for all.
You might not, of course. You might be so conditioned to accept particular social hierarchies that you would plan for your personal subjugation or exploitation rather than something more democratic. For you, the differences between people would be more important than what they have in common. Humanity as something that transcends variety would not exist. It is this latter sense however, that is the foundation feeling for human rights, since no person is more of a human being than another; no person is less.
Assuming that you are not conditioned to accept current social hierarchies regardless, the basic rules and requirements you would arrive at would be your own declaration of human rights. They would be your notion of the minimum standards and conditions necessary for everyone to enjoy a decent and dignified life.
You could then compare your list with those made in your name (as a member of humanity) by international groups like the United Nations.
The results of such group deliberations are not meant to replace any of the many and varied belief systems in the world. They are meant to provide a benchmark; a set of fundamental standards without which human dignity and decency are destroyed. They can be used to assess how people actually live. They will demonstrate the strengths of all other cultures and value systems. They will also help show if and where a particular culture is inadequate, and prompt its reform.
HUMAN RIGHTS ARE ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHAT IS HUMANE
Lists like these are never complete either. The process of formulation continues, as the struggle to specify clearly what is basic in this respect goes on. As long as the struggle continues, we must confront what it is that is fundamental about a decent society, and define what humane living requires. We must look for ourselves in others, and the 'other' in 'us', and we must accept both as worthy beings.
WHEN TO BEGIN
With well-developed feelings of self-esteem and social tolerance, core values like freedom, justice, equality and well-being take on real meaning. More analytic teaching begins typically about the age of ten when children manifest, given the opportunity, a lively and profound interest in human rights issues, and a capacity for values learning far beyond that commonly expected or supposed. Another commission publication Teaching for human rights: Grades 5-10 takes up where this one leaves off, and contains a wide range of activities that allow students at this level and above to explore human rights issue areas in a systematic and experiential way.
A BEGINNING, NOT AN END
Most infant and lower primary teachers will have their own programs for fostering children's feelings of self-esteem and tolerance. The curriculum for Social Studies, Language, Health, and other standard subjects, will contain a wealth of suggestions for such work. This book is not meant to compete with these courses. It is meant to provide a values framework appropriate to a long-term program of moral literacy, defined in terms of what is humane. All the activities are organised within that framework.
The human rights approach does not become explicit until later years, when particular issues can be discussed in more detail, in human rights terms. The first step is to consolidate humane values, however, and the sentiments that sustain them. It is these feelings that give rights claims their force. It is also a beginning that never ends, since the need to review such values can never be met once and for all. As this book is a beginning, so too is the moral practice it is meant to nurture. Such a process remains unfinished, and since every year brings a new class to teach, it is never likely to be so.
SELF-WORTH AND SOCIAL TOLERANCE
These values are meaningless, however, without feelings of self-worth and social tolerance. Hence the importance of developing, at primary levels, individual self-esteem and collective empathy. These are the bases for any more abstract appreciation of human rights that may be introduced later on. Teaching for human rights means, first and foremost, teaching for humane values.
Schematically, the sequence runs:
To foster a humane world, we need to foster the appropriate feelings. This task begins at birth. If people do not have a sense of self-worth and a sense of identity with others they are not likely to value justice, freedom, equality and well-being. It they do not (following through the sequence above) subscribe to these core values, then they are not likely to act in the diverse ways that human principles prescribe in practice.
Teaching for the fundamental feelings of self-esteem and empathy/sympathy cannot begin too early. Feelings are skills and specific feelings have to be encouraged and taught for in a very active fashion if they are to become an effective part of a child's emotional, moral and, behavioural vocabulary. Any time spent specifically at 'work on self-esteem and empathy exercises is time well spent, and the more the better, -though the overall emotional climate in which this happens remains paramount.
Later on, as their awareness grows, children, can address more directly human rights values and human rights principles. Older children (and even adults) who suffer from a. lack of self-esteem and social sympathy have to return to basics-to kindergarten as it were-to have these feelings s fostered. A sense of self-worth and a sense of social sympathy are essential to all that flows from them. Where children do have these feelings, then you can reverse the sequence and begin (with due regard for analytic capacity) by examining human rights principles per se. You might ask, for example, why these principles rather than others? In answering such a question you will inevitably start moving back along the sequence above, exploring the values that determine such principles, and finally, the feelings that inform the core values concerned.
THIS IS TEACHING, NOT PREACHING
What is the teacher's proper role in values education? Talking with children about the importance of fairness, for example, is not the same as initiating activities or practising classroom or school procedures that provide the direct experience of fair as opposed to unfair feelings and behaviour.
And yet, to intervene so overtly may be more than a teacher feels he or she can justify in his or her role as an objective educator, determined not to preach.
The first thing to be said is that although objectivity can be achieved with effort and practice, value neutrality is not attainable, even if it were desirable. Classrooms and schools are steeped in human values, and these may not be very humane ones. It would be sad if children were to learn more at school about hypocrisy and power, than moral autonomy and the difference between bad and good. This might make for obedient subjects- it would not make for morally literate citizens.
The fact that neutrality is unattainable does not, however, mean that teachers have, or should have, a licence to try and indoctrinate their students with their preferred values.
(The word 'try' is used because students, at least older students, usually have a good idea of what their teachers believe, make allowances for it, and do not necessarily see it as a problem. Students spend as much, if not more time studying teachers, as teachers spend studying them; and it may be fair comment to say that teachers who try to convert their pupils to a particular point of view are open to the charge not only of indoctrination but also, in a society like ours that is so saturated with competing information, of wasting students' time.)
Given all the above, how should a teacher best proceed? Since values are taught regardless, whether effectively or not, they might as well be 'good' rather than 'bad' ones. This is something teachers, administrators, parents and children can all agree upon. But what is 'good' and 'bad'? What is 'right' and 'wrong' in this regard? There will be active disagreement about any comprehensive answer, no matter how much values discussion and clarification goes on, since in pluralist societies like our own, different people hold and express different opinions and beliefs. That is important in itself.
However, there is also active global agreement, and has been for nearly forty years, over a list of basic standards applicable to all-namely, the Universal declaration of human rights. A teacher who works from this list, its core values, and the feelings that inform those values, cannot fairly be accused of political indoctrination.
The doctrine of human rights and responsibilities is a multi-coloured umbrella that teachers can erect over the whole range of value debates. It provides a comprehensive set of principles, that cover every important issue area in a concrete way, that is not only affirmative but also universally endorsed. It was the first attempt in secular terms to articulate the basic entitlements of each and every human being, regardless of gender, race, ethnic origin or disability, and is part of an extraordinary experiment in civilising humankind. It deserves the widest pedagogic respect. It has made it possible, for the first time, to teach for humane values 'objectively'.
The second important factor has to do with how you teach. If, irrespective of course content, you teach in such a way as to foster the human dignity of all those in your classroom, then children will learn to value themselves and to respect others simply because you do. At its simplest, this means avoiding situations of structural hypocrisy, where what you do is at odds with what you say: 'Today we are going to talk about freedom of expression; be quiet in the back row', for example.
There is much more to it than this however. Schools may be highly hierarchic and autocratic. They may mirror to some extent the societies in which they sit. And yet the human rights doctrine is profoundly egalitarian. If the values and feelings that sustain it are to reach the students in an effective fashion, then ways have to be found to foster the active participation of all concerned. Involving parents, grandparents, school personnel and the students themselves from the very beginning, will allay many misplaced fears, allow you the opportunity to explain what is being done, and win the help of everybody concerned in planning what to do, how to do it, and why. Letters home, school meetings, the negotiation of classroom rules and responsibilities, considering the whole school and its curriculum in the light of what is to happen, are long-tested, democratic, and highly successful ways to begin. They also allow you to reach through the classroom out into the community in ways that can be highly beneficial to both. And they are open ways, that do not provide set answers, nor pre-empt change.
THE 4TH R
Rights are claims. They are strong claims, and rights talk is strong talk. Rights are not graven in granite however. As indicated earlier, they get their strength from the reasons given for them, and since rights claims are strong claims, these reasons have to be very good ones. They need to be reasons which promote and protect prime values. It is one thing to assert what we want, or even what we think we need. It is another again to establish basic rights; to see quite clearly the reasons for them, and the values they defend.
If the whole school experience is reasonable in this regard, not only are humane values nurtured, but everything else is learned more readily as well.
School children learn best when what they are doing is personally relevant- when the outcome is meaningful and clear. Literacy and numeracy, the basic 3 Rs, are learned best when the context in which they are taught is a humane one. Teaching for humane values establishes such a context, thereby reinforcing the 3 Rs, while at the same time fostering an educated capacity for moral judgment.
Do this in a way that provides as much opportunity as possible for children to
experience the feelings at first hand, and to reflect upon them themselves, and you serve
the most profound of all educational ends. The children will be learning to think for
themselves. At the same time you may help insure the species against its own suicide, or
short of that, to recognise the danger signs when humane society is at risk. This is moral
literacy, that is, the skill to make responsible and rightful judgments. It is this and
only this that can ultimately secure survival and a good life for all. A humane school
experience will teach for such skills, while making everything else done there easier and
more effective too.
Resource Centre for Human Rights Education:
Teaching for Human Rights: Pre-school and Grades 1-4