Introduction: radical teaching about human rights.

Author:Bennett, Michael

When the idea of devoting an issue of Radical Teacher to Human Rights Education (HRE) first came up at a meeting of the Editorial Collective, some members were not enthusiastic. As self-proclaimed radicals, many of us were suspicious of the discourse of human rights (Whose rights? How are they defined, and by whom? Who enforces them, and how?); suspicious of HRE (or any educational movement that has become an acronym often invoked uncritically by adherents with a sometimes unclear political agenda); just plain suspicious (Isn't it the job of radicals to be critical of mainstream discourses and movements, including self-criticism when our own ideas become mainstreamed?) Coeditor Susan O'Malley, who since her retirement has worked with the NGO Committee on the Status of Women at the UN, suggested that human rights was much more complicated than the discussions at Radical Teacher meetings indicated, although she admitted that she knew little about how human rights was being taught. At MLA in 2013, she organized a panel on "Women and the Language/Literature of Human Rights" that elicited great interest and produced a number of excellent papers, one of which by Amy Levin has already been published by Radical Teacher. When we wrote the call for articles on teaching about human rights, we had no idea that we would receive so many proposals that we are now planning a second issue on "Teaching About Human Rights."

We took the Editorial Collective's suspicions seriously as co-editors while we delved into the many proposed essays from a wide variety of teachers engaged with the HRE movement, with which neither of us were very familiar when this process began. We learned that HRE has a long and complicated history, and that lately the HRE movement has become larger and more active than we were aware. Most histories of HRE begin with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was passed unanimously by the UN in 1946. Signatories to the UDHR pledge that they "shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms." Article 26 of the UDHR states that "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages ... Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." These initial declarations were followed by the 1974 United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) document that recommitted the UN to HRE; the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna reaffirming that "States are duty-bound ... to ensure that education is aimed at strengthening the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms"; the establishment of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights shortly thereafter; the declaration of the United Nation Decade for Human Rights Education 1995-2004; and the 2011 UN...

To continue reading