December 09, 2016

Stand up for someone’s rights: Dec. 10 is Human Rights Day

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
human rights day
Caption: NYSUT educators Kelly Wetherbee (left) and Thea MacFawn (left) are co-directors of the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

How do you bring human rights into the lens of the student view?

You use the experts. They are often colleagues in the school library down the hall, in the classroom next door, at foundations or centers that specialize in human rights education, and at Share My Lesson, the AFT site with a plethora of lesson plans available to download.

North Colonie Teachers Association members Thea MacFawn and Kelly Wetherbee, who are co-directors of the Capital Region Institute for Human Rights, shared some of the tools they are using to educate students about human rights.

In advance of the Dec. 10 Human Rights Day, which is on a Saturday this year, Shaker High School English teacher MacFawn will have her students watch the United Nations “Stand up for someone’s rights today” clip, and then take the pledge to stand up for others, each in their own way.

For MacFawn, class time will also be devoted to reporting out on projects. Each student has a project this semester ranging from volunteering with a local refugee agency to helping children new to this country develop literacy skills. Others are creating Public Service Announcements about the Dakota access pipeline, or sending holiday cheer to service men and women in Afghanistan.

“Students are currently working on their advocacy projects and we will use class time for each group to talk about their work and how they hope to improve and raise awareness about their topic or cause,” said MacFawn.

In order to support students in their work, teachers and librarians provide background knowledge and context. “Students are encouraged throughout the course to bring in articles about issues important to them and to pose solutions,” MacFawn said.

Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10. It commemorates the day, in 1948, that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Visit for more information.

For the Classroom: Books and Videos

Wetherbee, a librarian and media specialist at Shaker High, recommends her top picks for movies and books tackling human rights:

  • The White Helmets is a Netflix documentary that follows a group of first responders while they deal with the chaos of the war in Aleppo, Syria. This group of individuals was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.
  • Jim: The James Foley Story is an HBO documentary detailing the story of Jim Foley, the reporter whose beheading by ISIS was broadcast and seen by millions. It is the story of his life as a reporter in this unstable part of the world.
  • The Morning They Came for Us by Janine di Giovanni. “Journalist Janine di Giovanni gives us a tour de force of war reportage, all told through the perspective of ordinary people―among them a doctor, a nun, a musician, and a student. What emerges is an extraordinary picture of the devastating human consequences of armed conflict, one that charts an apocalyptic but at times tender story of life in a jihadist war zone.” —
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. “This book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness... targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control — relegating millions to a permanent second-class status — even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.” —
  • The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Norberg. Men rule the society in Afghanistan. Consequently, the birth of a son is a joyous occasion, and the birth of a daughter is viewed quite negatively. Many families now opt for a third option - that of raising your daughter as if she were a boy, and presenting her to the world as male until she is of age to marry and give birth. This is the story of individuals who have had to endure this lifestyle due to the lack of human rights for women in Afghanistan.

Share My Lesson

The American Federation of Teachers “Share My Lesson” website is a free educational site for teachers that is loaded with materials, resources and classroom activities to meet learning standards. The free, downloadable lessons are submitted by professionals in their areas of expertise, research organizations, educators, and leaders from organizations devoted to learning.

For young children it is important to make the idea of human rights relatable. At Share My Lesson, the idea becomes one simple word: kindness.

In a lesson titled “How Can I Be Kind?" the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has submitted an activity to help students identify ways to be kind to themselves and others, and to be fair in the sandbox of life. There are other resources for elementary student teachers as well.

The rich resources of PBS News Hour Extra contribute to one of many human rights lessons for middle school students. The PBS activity introduces the idea of human rights in terms of why it is vital to have an established framework for human rights recognition that has been agreed on.

High school lessons on human rights include a global citizenship and international law study from Teach Unique.

Visit for more information or to download these and other lesson plans.