December 10, 2015

Human Rights Day a wakeup call

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications

Drew Beiter, a social studies eighth-grade teacher who serves on NYSUT’s Civil and Human Rights Committee, is showing his colleagues how to take action in the face of overwhelming human rights violations that happen every minute across the globe. It’s a special time to pay attention, because today Dec. 10, United Nations’ Human Rights Day, calls us all to wake up.

Violations to life and dignity and other human rights can range from domestic violence to sex trafficking to child labor. There are many sadnesses and harms worth addressing, and Human Rights Day is reminder to get started, or perhaps a nudge to keep going.

Beiter is promoting awareness about an educational initiative to get involved in what he calls “arguably the humanitarian issue of our time”—the refugee crisis.

As education director for the non-profit “I Am Syria,” Beiter shares resources from teaching materials to provide “a mechanism for educators to teach about human rights in real time,” he said. Materials include refugee videos taken on rafts in the Mediterranean Sea, and ideas for student action toolkits.

Beiter is a member of the Springville Teachers Association. He has joined other teachers in creating the “I Am Syria” program so materials can be used in one day of class or in three mini-units.

“All of this work finds its roots back to our shared mission as teacher unionists, highlighting the power of education to expose injustice and repair the world,” said Beiter, who is active in many human rights causes. He is co-founder of the Educator Institute for Human Rights, and founder of the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies of Buffalo. He worked with NYSUT on developing lesson plans for the Speak Truth to Power curriculum, which focuses on the achievements and struggles of many human rights defenders.

The Dec. 10 marking of human rights is a day set aside each year by the United Nations to honor the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

It was passed in Paris after the end of World War II, when so much of the world had suffered hatred, fear, death, horror and torture.

The human rights declaration can be downloaded here.

There are 30 articles in the declaration, beginning with the first one:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” and ending with the last one: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”