Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality, and to the strengthening of respect for human rights, and fundamental freedoms. It 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.

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

—Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26


Jennifer Turner writes: Two years ago, while co-teaching a human rights lesson at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., I had a personal breakthrough, witnessing firsthand what the UDHR meant in saying “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality.”

A few weeks earlier, I had taught my first lesson at Roosevelt, and my students seemed very despondent, showing no interest in the topic of human rights. Some of them had little to no support in their home lives; others had already been in and out of the juvenile system, and most of them struggled with reading comprehension, among other things. At first glance, I was just another adult in front of them demanding their attention, and time.

But week after week, as we considered topics such as Immigration and Healthcare, I began to notice the looks on their faces change. They began to engage with the topics of our class with more power, and interest. Collectively, we developed a rapport of tolerance, and deep, even passionate discussions ensued. It became obvious to me that having a class on human rights was providing these students with a space to share their stories, and also to gain perspective on what it means to be a fully developed human.

Education in its best sense can bring us to life, initiating an opening and a curiosity with which to explore and expand upon our shared human existence, contributing to our overall development as individuals, and as a society.

Jennifer Turner has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Michigan, and served as a member of Amnesty International’s Human Rights Education Service Corps in Washington, D.C.  She is currently a contributing writer to our blog, and works with The World As It Could Be on communications and outreach.