December is Human Rights Month

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This month the United Nations commemorates the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

The UDHR — along with covenants on economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights adopted by the UN in 1966 — comprise the International Bill of Human Rights sets out the rights we are entitled to regardless of where we live.

Commemoration of the UDHR is especially meaningful to the Hudson Valley because of Eleanor Roosevelt’s lead role in drafting and securing its passage.

What can educators & students do?

This year, the UN has called on all of us to stand up for someone’s rights with this statement: “Many of us are fearful about the way the world is heading. Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be wide-spread in all parts of the globe. Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Humane values are under attack.

“We must reaffirm our common humanity. Wherever we are, we can make a real difference. In the street, in school, at work, in public transport; in the voting booth, on social media. ….

“It starts with each of us. Step forward and defend the rights of a refugee or migrant, a person with disabilities, an LGBT person, a woman, a child, indigenous peoples, a minority group, or anyone else at risk of discrimination or violence.”

This message is consistent with Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “Where, after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination….”

The Price of Sex Trafficking by Stephanie Alifano from An Artist's Response to Human Rights (see below).

The Price of Sex Trafficking by Stephanie Alifano from An Artist’s Response to Human Rights (see below).

Research local

Some Hudson Valley cities and counties have their own human rights commissions. Learning about what these groups do and how students can help, may offer many teachable moments. Here are county commissions we know about; please let us know if we missed yours. Students also can check city, town, and village websites for local committees.

Dutchess County Human Rights Commission “is committed to ensuring our community is inclusive and respectful for all….”

Orange County Human Rights Commission “foster[s] mutual respect and understanding among all racial, religious and nationality groups….”

Rockland County Commission on Human Rights “is dedicated to investigating discriminatory practices related to housing, employment, race, creed, age….”

Ulster County Human Rights Commission “exists to foster respect for the rights of all citizens and to explore opportunities for improving relations among all….”

Human Rights Commission of Westchester “seeks to promote dignity and respect.”

An Artist’s Response to Human Rights

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This work by Monroe-Woodbury’s Brianna Noonan is one piece in the exhibit, An Artist’s Response to Human Rights.

Visual and literary creations depicting the UDHR’s 30 Articles are on view at Orange Hall Gallery, SUNY Orange, Middletown, and the Mindy Ross Gallery, SUNY Orange, Newburgh, through Dec. 18.  The exhibit features works by more than 150 high school students.

Schools represented include Cornwall, Middletown, Minisink Valley, Monroe-Woodbury, Pine Bush, Port Jervis, Washingtonville, Storm King, Burke Catholic, BOCES, Warwick, and O’Neill.

The annual exhibit is sponsored by the Orange County Human Rights Commission, SUNY Orange, and the Orange County Arts Council. Directions and details: 845-341-4891 or cultural@sunyorange.edu.

Younger students can learn about Eleanor Roosevelt and human rights, during an activity day at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, Sun., Dec. 11, 1-4 P.M.  A new National Park Service Junior Ranger badge, created by a local elementary school student, will be introduced. Read more.

Be vigilant

Noting the recent rise in hate crimes here at home Alan Singer, a social studies educator in the Dept. of Teaching Learning Technology at Hofstra University, recommends learning from 19th century vigilance committees. Formed in the 1830s, they operated through the Civil War years to keep slave catchers from kidnapping free Blacks and escapees and dragging them back into slavery.

Singer suggests “wearing ‘I support human rights’ t-shirts and ‘safe space’ safety pins, reporting incidents to school officials, and shouting ‘STOP’ when [we] see acts of bullying and injustice.”  (Read Singer’s post, Human Rights Vigilance Committees, A Lesson From America’s Past.)

More ideas for thinking and acting

Action lists from the United Nations, here and here.

Ten Ways to Make a Difference from Amnesty International.

Past THV posts, many with resources, related to the UDHR and human rights. (Including links to THV activities and lesson plans.)

Eleanor Roosevelt – Human Rights Advocate (grade 8), lesson plan from the Hudson River Valley Institute.