Success Stories in High Schools
In high schools, human rights education builds off international standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to examine current events and foster a sense of moral responsibility in students. Community service is an effective means of encouraging students to promote human rights in their daily lives. Topics in high school human rights education range from issues in the immediate local community to issues affecting those across the world.
At an alternative sobriety high school in Minneapolis, the teacher draws on current events to teach about human rights. Students learn about global issues such as sweatshops and child labor as well as conflicts around the world.
A music class at an Arts High School in Golden Valley, MN, incorporated music from different cultures to raise students’ awareness. Musicians from Turkey and Togo made presentations to the class about life in their home countries and shared traditional instruments from their cultures.
Human Rights in the United States:
Classes that focus on the human rights environment in the United States help students understand the changes needed in our own country. At an alternative high school, students learned about the death penalty, women’s rights, abortion, homelessness in America, juvenile rights and homosexual rights. Learning about homosexual rights inspired the students to start a Gay-Straight Alliance group to improve the climate at their school. Students taking the class during 9/11 learned about discrimination against Muslims, the rules of war and the Geneva Convention.
At an alternative high school in Minneapolis, a school focused on fostering a supportive environment for students who were unsuccessful in previous high schools, students learned about conflict resolution. They visited a photography exhibit about the Rwandan genocide and spoke with the exhibit’s photographer, Paul Corbitt Brown, discussing issues such as life after conflict and the impact of choosing peace over violence. By exploring these issues in light of tragedies both abroad and at home in Minneapolis, the students thought critically about the change that they would like to see in their neighborhoods and how the community could use art and community service to impact their world in a positive way. The students also participated in an activity lead by The Advocates’ staff that posed the question, “Where will you be in five years?” The students transmitted their plan through words or illustration.
In a class called “Puppets for Peace Action,” students at St Paul’s Creative Arts High School planned and performed a puppet show based on a human rights theme. Students chose corporate responsibility as the theme for their puppet show, focusing specifically on the practices of Phillip Morris Companies Inc. Using the life-size puppets they created, the students performed a show that emphasized the damaging effects of the company’s practices, both on people and the environment. In addition to the play, students in the class made fliers, wrote in journals, and wrote two-page persuasive pieces about the issue.
Through service, students take action to advance the human rights principles they have learned. Students at a high school in downtown Minneapolis volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. At an alternative high school nearby, students followed up on what they learned in class about the Iraq War by creating relief kits for Iraqi citizens, involving parents and local businesses in the project. As part of a “Social Action” course at St. Paul’s Creative Arts High School, students did service projects such as helping with a youth choir, working at the Resource Center of the Americas, and helping at the YMCA. Other students at St. Paul Creative Arts High School did a project called “Filling the Bowls.” They made and decorated ceramic bowls, filled them with soup from a local restaurant, and sold the bowls to raise money for a local food shelf. They raised $1,500!
Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
As the primary international human rights standard, the UDHR is fundamental to human rights education. At a K-12 school in downtown Minneapolis, an 8th-11th grade human rights class began the year with a brief history of WWII to understand the context in which the UDHR was created. After learning about the UDHR, students were divided into groups for a project to educate the rest of the school. Each group was assigned 2 of the 30 articles to illustrate on posters. Students used drawing and collage to represent the concepts creatively. The students assigned Article 23, which grants equal pay for equal work, made illustration of men and women working together and learning from each other. The students assigned Article 18, which grants freedom to practice religion, used symbols for major world religions to represent religious diversity.