On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a historic commitment to universal rights. Now, more than 70 years later, how widely respected are the rights enshrined in this document? Students may justifiably question the global community’s commitment to human rights when they see headlines about dangerous conditions for migrants, the detention and surveillance of Uighurs in China, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, or the degradation of the environment. Yet, there are also positive trends, such as the rise of movements against sexual harassment and systemic racism.
In this Teaching Idea, students use the UDHR as a framework for understanding both the progress that has been made since 1948 and the areas where we continue to fall short in protecting and promoting human rights. This analysis can inspire and motivate students to dedicate themselves to the cause of human rights worldwide by promoting them in the “small places close to home,” which is where, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, they begin.
The following Teaching Idea provides opportunities to explore the following questions:
Set the mood for thinking about human rights by using the Graffiti Board teaching strategy. On a whiteboard or large paper, write out Article I of the UDHR: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and write the following prompt:
I think a human right is. . .
Encourage students to silently jot down or draw as many responses they feel are appropriate and assure them that repetition is allowed.
Direct students to examine the graffiti board and consider:
Encourage students to privately define what universal human rights means to them in their notebooks.
Remote Learning Note: Use the teaching strategy Graffiti Boards (Remote Learning) to organize a discussion with your students. On a shared document, write Article I of the UDHR and the following prompt:
I think a human right is . . .
Ask your students to write their responses to the prompt on the shared document during a synchronous session or asynchronously during a defined time period. Then, ask your students to discuss the ideas on the graffiti board in small groups, either in a breakout room during a synchronous session or asynchronously in a discussion forum. Finally, students should write down their own definition of a human right in their notebooks.
Select an appropriate version for your class’s reading level of the UDHR from the list below and use a modification of the Wraparound teaching strategy to guide students’ analysis. After students review the declaration, ask them to call out a phrase or article they find compelling. Allow students to participate without a set order for dramatic recitation.
(Note: The UN Human Rights Office has published comics of each UDHR article with Spirou Magazine which students may enjoy. It will take a few minutes to download.)
Ask students how the class’s graffiti board enumeration of human rights compares or contrasts to the UDHR. Clarify any articles of the document students do not understand.
Encourage students to revisit their notebook definition of a human right and allow them to modify it after reading a version of the UDHR.
Remote Learning Note: Distribute one of the versions of the UDHR to your students. Students should share the phrase or article they find most compelling using the Wraparound (Remote Learning) strategy. Then, ask your students to reflect—individually or in small groups—on how the class’s graffiti board enumeration of human rights compares or contrasts to the UDHR.
After examining the UDHR itself, students can turn their attention to today and observe how the human rights enumerated in the declaration are being promoted, protected, or contested.
Distribute pages 2–3 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Facts and Figures. Have students read through the pages together in small groups and, using the 3-2-1 teaching strategy, identify together the following:
Remote Learning Note: Ask your students to individually read pages 2–3 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Facts and Figures and using the 3-2-1 teaching strategy, identify together the following:
Then, ask your students to share their responses in small groups, either in a breakout room during a synchronous session or asynchronously in a discussion forum.
Ask your students to explore the connections between different human rights and current news stories. If your students have access to either the internet or print editions of a newspaper, you can ask them to work together in small groups to find an article that connects to at least one of the human rights they learned about. Alternatively, you can print a few different news articles that connect to human rights and give each group a different news story. The topics of the articles you use might include:
Ask your students to analyze and share their articles using the Jigsaw teaching strategy. Students can meet in initial “expert” groups to discuss a single article and determine which rights in the UDHR are relevant in the story. Then, you can re-organize students into “teaching” groups where each member shares a different article from their previous group. Finish by leading a brief class discussion in which students discuss the patterns that they notice across the articles. In the discussion, you might ask students to name things they learned that are surprising, interesting, and troubling (S-I-T) from the patterns they noticed.
Remote Learning Note: Ask your students to read an article in the news that discusses at least one human right in the UDHR. Students can either find their own article, or you can assign them an article, such as the ones listed above. Students should write a short summary of the article and identify the human rights that are relevant to the story. Ask students to share their summaries with the class. Students should review a select number of their classmates' summaries and name things they learned that are surprising, interesting, and troubling (S-I-T). Students could submit their reflections in the form of an Exit Card.
Show the short video Who Has to Uphold Human Rights? featuring Human Rights Watch’s Babatunde Olugboji.
Ask your students:
Finally, ask students to consider what role they play in protecting and promoting human rights for everyone. Share with them the #standup4humanrights pledge. Use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to engage students in a discussion of the following questions:
Give students the opportunity to take the pledge.
Remote Learning Note: If you are teaching synchronously, play the video Who Has to Uphold Human Rights? for your class and then place students into breakout rooms with small groups to discuss the video. Bring students back to a full group session and ask a few students to share what they discussed in their groups. Introduce the #standup4humanrights pledge, and then have students return to their breakout rooms to discuss the pledge.
If you are teaching asynchronously, ask students to watch the video and read about the pledge individually. Then, ask students to record a short reflection on what they learned using the prompt: How can individuals protect human rights? Students can share their recordings with the class using an application such as VoiceThread.