Re: Goals and objectives of HRE



Dear all,

The biggest obstacle I see with implementing the goal of educating young
people to become activists is the school environment. This environment, in
the U.S. at least and in most other countries I have visited, is
controlled by an ethos of maintaining the status quo and an attitude of
"let's not rock the boat. If we do, parents, elected officials, and school
officials will be unhappy with us." This is a reflection of the societies
they exist within which also do not really want very much activism, as
this would rock the boat and disturb the status quo.

In the United States, where I am located, this is particularly true. In
fact HRE itself is not substantially taught in the U.S., probably because
of these attitudes. People are afraid of change and HRE is a
change-oriented subject.

Is there a glimmer of hope? I think there is. To me it can be found in
action projects run by some teachers of human rights or other related
fields, like civics, government or constitutional rights. Even an English
or Science teacher can do it. One is called Youth Act! which my
organization, Street Law Inc., has run in a number of schools here in the
U.S. In this program, for example, students in Washington D.C. studied the
issue of homelessness and how inadequate the budget of the local
government was to supposedly address this problem. They wrote letters,
testified before the local city council and took action, all under the
banner of human rights. This program has been taken further in your
country (U.K.) by a staff member of the Citizenship Foundation, Carrie
Supple, who has set up many successful Youth Act! Projects. For
information on the U.S. Youth Act see {http://www.streetlaw.org } and for
the U.K. model see {http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org }.

But can we see real change in this area unless the school itself changes?
I think not. That goal of maintaining the status quo must be changed where
the goal is to inspire young people to be active engaged citizens. If that
was to happen, teachers could then teach to inspire leaders not just
followers, the danger of which you illustrate well by you're reporting the
results of the experiments (e.g. the people shockingly electric shocking
others).

Real school change will require innovative pilot projects that have the
capability of encouraging mainstream school leaders to take a chance on
promoting student involvement. This can include student decision-making
regarding school issues and not just social ones like the school dance. It
also takes teaching about human rights. These can go together and I have
recently come across such a project here in the U.S. It is called the
First Amendment Schools project. It asks a school (it has 20 or so already
signed on) to commit to providing U.S. First Amendment rights: speech,
religion, petition, assembly and association to all in the school
community including students, teachers, administrators and parents, and to
teach about these rights in classes. The school is a "laboratory of
democracy" and reflects the first amendment freedoms in all that goes on.
Though this model has drawbacks, including emphasizing only political
rights, the schools themselves seem to be encouraging social and economic
rights as well. Another drawback is a lack of awareness among both the
leaders of the project and the people in the schools that this is a HRE
project. Like most Americans, they, tragically, do not know anything about
HRE. Would our government act differently in Iraq if we did? - I think so.

I encourage list serve members to look at the First Amendment Schools
website as here is a relatively mainstream project working to inspire
students to be activists and giving them an opportunity to practice such
activism within the school. Their address is:
{http://www.firstamendmentschools.org }.

Best regards,

Ed

 
Edward O'Brien
Executive Director
Street Law Inc.
1010 Wayne Ave.
Silver Spring Maryland 20910

 

 
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