December 10, 2014

Human rights require action, protection 365 days a year

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

human rightsProtests continue in cities across the country, where people are giving voice to concern about the rights of citizens, expressing outrage about police action and what they believe is injustice in the courts in two separate killings of African Americans by cops. Police defenders, meanwhile, note how officers are being demonized despite their efforts to protect citizens.

Beneath all of the vocal discord are questions about human rights.

Human rights meters out to almost every corner of life, pulling on the environment, poverty, education, discrimination, health, law and justice. There is no time like the present to stop and reflect on the United Nations' Human Rights Day, held every year on December 10. This year's theme is "Human Rights 365" because every day is supposed to be a human rights day.

As this country questions human rights and issues of racism flare, Fred Kowal, president of the SUNY higher education union, United University Professions, sees the unrest as an "unbelievable opportunity" to really hear students. In a video appeal, Kowal urges educators and health care professionals to make a difference in the lives of students by "simply listening to their concerns and helping them process their emotions." He asks educators to help end racism and its companions of chaos, violence and hatred.

"We must be ready to help them (students) work through their emotions and the difficult issues that this decision raises for many of them," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, after the decision in a New York City case that saw a man die during an arrest.

Racism is larger than obvious disconnects.

"Institutional racism exists in many of our paradigms, such as resources we provide to our children across the state (school funding, health care) and with what we are exposed to in our workplaces," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale.

New lesson plans to discuss racial profiling and stereotyping have been posted at the American Federation of Teacher's site, Share My Lesson.

Topics there include the press and civil rights; using photographs to teach social justice; labor icon John Lewis: non-violent activism; the justice system; as well as articles from PBS News Hour Extra.

The affronts and slights against human rights exist in many walks of life. The December 10 Human Rights Day set aside for reflection or action has been in place since 1950 under proclamation from the United Nations General Assembly, stemming from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Every article (from the Declaration) still needs to be addressed fully in our country," Pecorale said. "I especially have been focused on Article 26, which is about education, and Article 5, which is about being subjected to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Articles 19 to 22 deal with individual rights around opinion, expression, assembly or taking part in government."

Visit the Speak Truth to Power site of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to learn more about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ideas for educators to bring human rights into existing curriculum or new programs are also available at the Speak Truth to Power site. The time frames of the ideas range from a day, to a week, to a semester. Ideas include:

  • Working cooperatively, create a Bill of Human Rights for your class or school, and then post it so people can see the culture that students desire.
  • Organize a meeting with a community leader on the topic of a local issue of concern. Ask students to take an action or a position.
  • Have students create posters and fliers to educate their school community about a specific international issue. This activity could include petitioning authorities.