Teaching Human Rights

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) December 10, 1948, making this Saturday Human Rights Day. Though not every country immediately ratified all 30 articles – and some, including the United States, still have not signed on to the entire document – most human rights activists agree the UDHR is a valuable tool in securing basic rights.

The Hudson Valley has a special relationship to human rights because Eleanor Roosevelt spent much of her life promoting them and served as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the UDHR.

Her home, Val-Kill, is open to the public and many of her papers, as well as radio and TV appearances, are collected at the FDR Presidential Library. Both are in Hyde Park, Dutchess County. For details on human rights-related programming available through the National Park Service and the Library see The Eleanor Connection below.

Our region is also home to the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Purchase, Westchester County and the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley, Rockland County. Both have programming for students and teachers. Links and locations are on THV’s destination tab.

This is a much longer THV blog post than usual. If you’d like to jump to topics of particular interest here are links to subsections for teaching about . . .


Human Rights and Eleanor Roosevelt
UDHR Article 25, Food
Article 23, Workers’ rights
Article 26, Education
Share your ideas

Getting Oriented

There are many resources to help integrate a discussion of human rights into classrooms and youth groups this week, next week, or anytime it suits your curriculum.

YES! Magazine’s abridged poster-version of the UDHR is an easy way to familiarize students with the document. Download it here and print as many as you need at a size that works for you up to 11×17. I especially like it because it adds a line about our country’s record on each article.

Or, order Syracuse Cultural Workers’ 32 x 22 laminated poster, shown above, for $25 plus shipping.

A link to the entire UDHR, in dozens of languages, can be found at the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers’ Project.

Teaching Tolerance devised By Virtue of Being Human: A Human Rights Questionnaire to “test the waters” of human rights awareness before introducing secondary students to the UDHR.

Facing History and Ourselves has several free activities and lesson plans such as Hope, Critique, and Possibility: Universal Rights in Societies of Difference.

If you or your students want to dig a little deeper a short history of human rights by Nancy Flowers, a co-founder of Human Rights USA, is available from the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Resource Center.

Want even more? Flowers also co-edited a 178-page guide, The Human Rights Education Handbook: Effective Practices for Learning, Action, and Change available as a free download at Child Rights International.


The Eleanor Connection

Many teachers say that students’ affinity for Eleanor Roosevelt makes it easy to introduce human rights through her. Here are a few of the many materials available to help you do so.

Where do Human Rights Begin is a program for secondary students – or teachers – offered at Val-Kill by educator Susanne Norris.

Susanne is also the author of Eleanor Roosevelt: An American Hero a curriculum unit pitched at the fourth grade level. It engages students in exploring primary documents, reading and analyzing literature, and gives teachers options for visiting Hyde Park.

Fundamental Freedoms: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a five-part book produced by Facing History and Ourselves. It includes 20 primary source documents as well as photographs, maps, and political cartoons from the period. Questions for each item stimulate classroom curiosity. Download free or purchase for $15.95 plus shipping.

“The Importance of Being Eleanor,” an issue of Cobblestone, the history magazine geared to ages 9-14. Full of photos and written in an engaging style, single copies are $6.95 and the teachers’ guide can be downloaded free. Get a link and read a review by the National Park Service’s Fran Macsali-Urbin.

Online Publicity for Issues that Matteris an activity/lesson developed by Newburgh high school teacher Barbara Goodman. Adaptable for grades 5-12, students choose an article from the UDHR that is important to them, discuss and practice effective communication strategies, and then design web pages about the issue.

“Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World” (grades 4-6), “Directed Student Research in Primary Source Documents” (7-12), and “Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Issues Forum” (10-12) are among the human rights-related programs offered by The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Of course, visiting Val-Kill and/or the FDR Library is a great way to begin or end a study of human rights, and the National Park Service and National Archives, which manages the Library, have a program to help cover transportation costs, Bus On Us.

Article 25, Food

This article, with language including, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for…health and well-being…including food, clothing, housing and medical care….” is among the easiest for students to understand.

If you decide to start the conversation with food, you can talk about a wide range of issues including access and what students think constitutes an adequate diet. Farms and Food: A Teaching the Hudson Valley Resource Guide is free and full of materials that can help students explore these topics.

Youth For Human Rights International has produced a free packet of materials for educators including a glossary, teachers guide, film, and more. They also have a 30-60 second video for each UDHR article. Here’s a link to the one on Food & Shelter.

Yes! Magazine has activities and lesson plans related to the growing, harvesting, and trade of bananas, chocolate, and coffee.

And, if you want to build on this theme with a farm visit, remember THV Explore Awards.


Article 23, Workers’ rights

(Photo at right courtesy of Barbara J. Miner.)

With the Occupy Movement drawing attention to inequality and unions facing attacks this article should provide fertile ground for human rights’ discussions especially with older students.

Article 23 includes the following key phrases: “equal pay for equal work,” “just and favourable remuneration ensuring…an existence worthy of human dignity,” and “the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection….”

The award-winning Rethinking Schools has some suggestions for teaching about labor issues including picture books, discussion questions, videos, articles, and more.

Teaching Tolerance offers Labor Matters – printable middle school activities and lessons complete with handouts – and a free kit, Viva La Causa, which focuses on the grape strikes and boycotts of the 1960s and ‘70s. It includes a 39-minute DVD and teacher’s guide with standards-based lesson plans for secondary students.

As mentioned, Youth for Human Rights International has produced a 30-60 second video for each UDHR article. This one on workers’ rights is among the most effective.

Article 26, Education

If like me, you think we don’t talk with students enough about the meaning and purpose of education, this article is a great way to get started. Key provisions of the article include, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free…. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Education Evaluation (grades 6-12) guides students through their human right to education and help them evaluate how well the world is doing when it comes to providing a free, equal, quality education to all. Free from Teaching Tolerance.

Get Youth For Human Rights International’s short video on education, part of the series mentioned above.

Human Rights and Educating Global Citizens, from Facing History and Ourselves, addresses another aspect of this article, “Education….shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

Tell us what you’re doing

Have an activity or lesson related to human rights? E-mail us a blog post or add it to THV’s free online library.