Teaching about Human Rights Day - a contentious issue?
‘This isn’t fair!! You can’t take me out of class! THIS IS AGAINST MY HUMAN RIGHTS!’ That’s what a young girl said to me as I was heartlessly escorting her to a classroom, together with some other of her peers, to do some specially-prepared advanced algebra.
As I walked her and her comrades down the corridor, two choices presented themselves to me: good-naturedly laugh off these childish histrionics, or humorlessly bore this young girl with an impromptu history lesson.
My history lesson went like this:
“The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was drafted in the aftermath of the Second World War, in the wake of one of the darkest periods of human history: a time of unfathomable shock, horror and remorse as the world tried to fish its humanity back out of the vast oceans of blood spilled. The aim of the convention was to ensure that the atrocities committed in the World War would never be permitted to happen again, and thus humanity would be protected from its own worst capacities, or, as Shakespeare put it, from praying on itself, like monsters of the deep.
It was not drafted so that bright but lazy students could complain that it’s a bit harder to find X.”
I’m sure you’ve had the same. Little Jimmy demanding that he be allowed to fill up his water bottle every ten minutes. Little Alex saying that his right to check SnapChat trumps your right to teach a successful lesson. Little Safa claiming she can’t be put in detention under any circumstance ever.
Human Rights can be a contentious issue for some, whether it’s students appropriating the term for every mild inconvenience they believe they are too special to endure, or the tabloid brigade fuming about prisoners enjoying foot spas and gilded lobsters at the taxpayers’ expense. With Britain leaving the EU, the future of human rights in this country is potentially uncertain. So do we still need to concern ourselves with teaching them? Should we still be even teaching about Human Rights Day this week?
Well, yes. Firstly because, while Britain (supposedly) is leaving the EU, we’ll still be part of the UN and therefore still subject to the Declaration of Human Rights. But more importantly, we will remain, as a nation, committed to the values of liberal democracy. Values which have been branded - by us - as British, although we’re far from the only nation to espouse them: democracy, rule of law, individual freedom and mutual respect – all of which are based on Human Rights. After all, such rights give us a global standard; a guarantee that, no matter our differences, weaknesses, flaws and imperfections when dealing with each other, we hold our common humanity sacred. Human Rights give us, amongst other things, the right to freedom, education, travel and security: protection from slavery, injustice and discrimination. In uncertain times, we can be certain that we matter.
As for the girl whose human rights she complained I’d violated by engaging with her academically? Ten minutes into the extended algebra work, which she was flying through, she said: ‘This is really good, actually’.
I’d venture to use her words as a slogan.
Human Rights: they’re really good, actually.
Teaching about Human Rights? This free, fully resourced one hour lesson focuses mass Human Rights abuses globally and their consequences and legacy. Students still getting their heads around British Values and fundamental British rights? This free, light-hearted assembly features a full run down by non other than the Queen herself.
If you're looking for a full, highly rated bundle of Human Rights resources, this highly rated six lesson pack has enough material to last for a whole teaching unit.