Reprinted with permission from Rowman & Littlefield

Mindful Social Studies: Frameworks for Social Emotional Learning and Critically Engaged Citizens
Edited by Natalie Keefer and Tori K. Flint
Rowman & Littlefield | 2022 | All Rights Reserved

Mindful Social Studies: Frameworks for Social Emotional Learning and Critically Engaged Citizens situates the field of social studies education as uniquely poised to integrate anti-racist, equity, and asset-based pedagogies with contemplative, mindfulness-based strategies to promote the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students need to be effective citizens. Students’ Social Emotional Learning (SEL) hinges upon their experience(s) engaging in authentic learning that strengthens cognitive skills, including critical thinking, self-awareness, reflection, compassion, empathy, and perspective taking. In this volume, the co-editors have curated reflective K-16 practitioner-style, research-focused, and theory-based chapters that explore social justice-orientated contemplative pedagogies, as well as mindfulness-related frameworks and strategies for teaching social studies and the social and behavioral sciences. In this book, chapter authors explore ways of cultivating specific mindfulness-related social studies dispositions and transformative rationales and approaches for critical mindfulness and SEL based on compelling arguments for meeting the needs of students, families, and educators in a dynamic and increasingly diverse society.

Chapter 14 (pp. 261–280)

The Human Rights Portal to Teaching Mindfulness and Civic Engagement

By Rosemary Ann Blanchard and Sandy Sohcot

This chapter describes one school and community center–based program that uses Social Emotional Learning (SEL) strategies to guide students through a series of human rights–grounded inquiries and exercises, helping them build self-awareness and a commitment to equity and justice for all. The program The World As It Could Be(TWAICB) Human Rights Education Program is a student-centered, inquiry-fueled celebration of the many concrete ways students can stand up for themselves, their peers, their families, and their communities. TWAICB employs a human rights framework both to analyze problems and to engage in community-healing solutions.


In the first moments after the conclusion of World War II, the United States was seen and saw itself as a leader in the struggle to reestablish the place of law and human decency in the relationship between individuals and nations. A collaboration of both the war’s victorious Allies and representatives of non-Western nations seeking an equitable, post-colonial status identified respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as a global imperative in Article 1, Section 3 of the Charter of the United Nations (1945). Soon after the United Nations was established, its Economic and Social Council appointed a Human Rights Commission, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, which developed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), approved by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948 (Glendon, 2001).

In the years following the adoption of the UDHR, wariness arose in United States political discourse regarding the domestic application of international humanitarian and human rights standards, fueled by Cold War fears and a backlash against the racial implications of universal human rights principles (Anderson, 2003; Blanchard, 2010). Thus, omissions plagued the history and civic principles taught to children in the United States in the 1950s, a situation that continues to the present day (Blanchard, 2010; Carson, 2019).

Today, nearly seventy-five years after the adoption of the UDHR, educators and students are, sometimes delicately, re-engaging with international human rights principles that support the inherent dignity, equality, and inalienable rights of everyone as codified in the UDHR and subsequent interpretive treaties, declarations, etc. They are tapping the potential of human rights principles and human rights education (HRE) for global awareness and as powerful tools for helping young people and the communities in which they participate, negotiate their differences, and value their unique contributions to the whole. The program featured in this chapter is an example of such re-engagement.

So, what are human rights? And what is human rights education? And how do HRE and mindfulness-centered education interrelate? According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (United Nations OHCHR, n.d.), “Human rights are rights we have simply because we exist as human beings – they are not granted by any state.” These rights are “universal,” “inalienable,” “indivisible,” and “interdependent,” applying to all persons “equally” and “without discrimination” (paras. 4–8). Those fundamental principles are expressed in greater detail and applied to different circumstances in the 30 Articles of the UDHR. Relying on their “reason and conscience (Article 1),” all members of the human family are entitled to enjoy “all the rights and freedoms” highlighted in the UDHR “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, (Article 2).” The “cost” is that all share a “duty to the community” to show “due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others (Article 29).” Thus, states have the responsibility to “respect,” “protect,” and “fulfill” human rights, and individuals are both entitled to enjoy their human rights and called upon to “respect and stand up” for the rights of others (United Nations OHCHR, n.d., para. 9).

HRE received a globally recognized definition in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011:

2. Human rights education and training encompasses:

  1. Education about human rights, which includes providing knowledge and understanding of human rights norms and principles, the values that underpin them and the mechanisms for their protection;
  2. Education through human rights, which includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners;
  3. Education for human rights, which includes empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others. (United Nations, 2011, art. 2)

Mindfulness taps our basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us (What is Mindfulness?, 2020). Strategies for cultivating mindfulness show a natural affinity for HRE initiatives. Human rights awareness is centered both in the embrace of our own worth as unique human persons and in our commitment to honor the full humanity of others. Human Rights are, in some ways, a code of ethics for the Human Family. All educators share the challenge of helping students know and respect themselves while respecting and engaging productively and compassionately with others. From that respect of self and others arises an approach to civic engagement which is active, even assertive, yet not reactive or revengeful.

Mindfulness, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and Their Connection to HRE

Jon Kabat-Zinn (2017) describes mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally … in the service of self-understanding and wisdom” (para. 2). The path to this awareness, for many young people, is through the process of SEL.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL, n.d.) defines SEL as:

the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. (para. 1)

Core competencies associated with SEL include (a) self-awareness: accurately assessing one’s feelings, interests, values, and strengths; maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence; (b) self-management: regulating one’s emotions and expressing them appropriately; (c) social awareness: recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences; empathizing with the perspectives of others; (d) relationship management: building healthy and rewarding cooperative relationships; resisting inappropriate social pressure; managing interpersonal conflict; seeking help when needed; (e) responsible decision-making: making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and probable consequences (CASEL, n.d.). Nurturing SEL competencies supports a person’s ability to practice mindfulness in all aspects of their life and to value its significance in navigating life’s challenges.

The United Nations General Assembly, proclaiming a Decade for Human Rights Education (General Assembly Resolution 49/184, 1994), described HRE as “a life-long process” by which all people can learn respect for the dignity of others and means of ensuring that respect. TWAICB utilizes the creative arts to provide participating youth an opportunity to learn about the UDHR, commit to their own actions to further human rights, and share with peers and adults the importance of the UDHR’s principles. This process is vital for generating “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” (U.N., 1948, preamble).

Realizing and balancing the rights identified in each UDHR Article is a complex process. After all, one person’s exercise of their right to free expression may impinge on another’s exercise of that same right. Mindfulness and SEL competencies help youth and adults appreciate and value different perspectives and become more open to shifting their own positions, fostering mutual respect, and constructive problem solving (Booth, 2013; Wreford & Haddock, 2019). Likewise, through mindfulness and SEL competence, students who find themselves reacting strongly to feelings stirred up by the exercises become better able to choose their responses and express their truth (LaHayne, 2019).

TWAICB facilitators, including author Sohcot, have observed that learning about the UDHR and its continuing relevance through the arts encourages students to act more respectfully toward others, aware now of this internationally approved framework for delimiting every person’s human rights. Integrating tools that nurture mindfulness and SEL competencies enhances the effects of learning about the UDHR. Integrating HRE with social studies learning enhances awareness among youth and adults of their connection to the well-being of the entire human family, inspires students to address issues of concern in their immediate and extended communities, and highlights the importance of mindfulness and SEL competencies to respectful participation in democratic processes (Spero, 2012; Wreford & Haddock, 2019; Zeigler & Gleeson, 2016).

TWAICB’s process presents a range of warm-up, movement, and theater exercises, along with the lesson plans that implicitly foster mindfulness and SEL while manifesting the principles of the UDHR and HRE as a whole. Students and their teachers engage in exercises and discussions, such as sharing their own experiences of being respected and disrespected, which can stir up emotional reactions. A safe environment is essential for these exercises so students and teachers can exchange their experiences, opinions, and feelings in ways that build empathy and understanding and support deep learning. The practice of mindfulness and SEL competencies enable participants to hear and speak to each other with mutual respect, and gain greater understanding of how they each experience and further human rights principles. TWAICB’s process and activities are explored more deeply in the rest of this chapter.


TWAICB grew out of a series of initiatives begun in 2006 at the Rex Foundation (, hereafter “Rex”), the charitable nonprofit organization founded in 1983 by the Bay Area rock and roll band, the Grateful Dead. In February 2006, the Foundation published the newsletter Perspectives on Being Human, to raise awareness about ways a human rights framework tied together the diverse programs supported by its grants. The newsletter included the text of the UDHR. Subsequently, author Sohcot, Rex’s Executive Director at that time, sought ways to creatively involve youth and community leaders in bringing the newsletter’s theme to life.

Not long thereafter, Sohcot approached the San Francisco Mime Troupe Youth Theater Project, a Rex grantee with a youth drama program. The Troupe agreed to help dramatize the newsletter theme and suggested bringing in other arts-based youth programs. Rex brought together three arts-based nonprofits that use their art forms to address social justice issues and commissioned an original production to be created by high school youth participants. Under the guidance of a creative director and the leaders of each organization, the young participants would use drama, dance, song, and spoken word to relay their ideas about the UDHR.

In an early planning meeting, a youth leader, upon reading the UDHR in the Newsletter, stated, “I never heard of this document, yet it basically spells out the world as it could be!” The production had its title The World As It Could Be—A Declaration of Human Rights.

Employing the methods of each of the three arts-based nonprofit organizations, the students developed a number of skits, presentations, and performance pieces, which they presented to nonprofit and community leaders in early December of 2006. The next day, the students performed their program at a San Francisco high school to a full auditorium of 1,200 students, faculty, and administrators. Each of the three programs used the creative strategies of their respective organization to develop their parts of the performance. The take-away from the event was illuminating. None of the adults or participating students had heard of the UDHR, even though, under the California state social studies standards and framework in effect at the time, the subject was “required” to be taught in eleventh-grade history and was a permissible subject in every other high school year. The youth, in particular, were excited to learn that the UDHR existed, expressing in various ways, “This is something I can fight for!”

The creative arts exercises presented to the students to help them develop their presentation were essential for their grasp and embodiment of UDHR concepts. They then used art forms to express their understanding of the UDHR’s significance. The student audience at the San Francisco high school was totally engaged in watching their peers perform and teach them about human rights. As a result, participating youth enjoyed the transformative experience of performing the role of teacher, imparting not only to their peers but to the adult audience, which included many of their teachers, the importance of the UDHR.

The positive responses among all participants led to the development of The World As It Could Be curriculum (TWAICB, 2022b). The curriculum, building upon the excitement of the educators involved in the process, provides innovative ways to bring attention to the UDHR, enlivening material that is too often rendered dry and over-technical in its academic presentation. The TWAICB curriculum demonstrates the vital role the arts can play in effectively teaching academic subjects, an important consideration as funding for the arts in public schools continues to be sidelined. Youth involved benefit from the opportunity to present what they learn to their community of peers and adults, and to be celebrated for their accomplishments.

The TWAICB curriculum project brought together a team of educators, including those involved in the production and a PhD student at the University of San Francisco’s newly initiated HRE degree program (Spero, 2012). The curriculum includes creative arts as part of each lesson plan, and a culminating, rite of passage component, geared to high school social studies and language arts classes. Two Bay Area high schools agreed to help pilot the curriculum. Feedback was gathered and evaluated upon completion of the various performances and productions. In addition, the project team regularly communicated, debriefing and adapting as the program moved ahead. In 2010, after a successful two-year pilot, the TWAICB curriculum was published. A three-day Institute, organized in collaboration with USF’s School of Education, provided training to educators and nonprofit leaders on implementing the curriculum.

In 2014, TWAICB was able to expand the venues and circumstances in which youth could engage with TWAICB by becoming a program of the Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs’ Activities League (DSAL). Author Sohcot was now able to create an after-school Rite of Passage enrichment program for the youth of a Youth Center in a nearby, unincorporated area. The program’s location provided a pathway for public safety officials to learn from youth themselves about the human rights framework, an important opening. TWAICB continues to maintain close ties with the Bay Area high schools involved in the curriculum pilot, and has been able to share the program with new and veteran educator participants through three-day Institutes on the curriculum. The World As It Could Be Is Within Reach Rite of Passage program has been implemented for seven years (TWAICB, 2022c).

Significance of Integrating the Creative Arts

The creative arts are basic to life experience (Fingerhut et al., 2021). Every human’s innate creativity is demonstrated in early childhood through such typical behaviors as movement, acting/pretending, and creating structures and playthings from various materials, as in building sandcastles and forts (E. Chang, personal conversation with S. Sohcot; Davidson, 2001). Integrating the various forms of creative arts, including writing of prose and poetry, performance, dance and movement, visual art, and spoken word, contributes to the learning experience of students in many ways: Students are able to invest emotionally and viscerally with academic content as they reflect on concepts through diverse forms of expression, such as creating a body sculpture of what “respect” looks like. Expressive performance also engages various parts of the brain (Bowen & Kisida, 2019; Miendlarzewska & Trost, 2014).

As academic relevance and personal relevance intersect, literary and historical events become related to personal stories and experiences, validating while expanding students’ understanding. As students build empathy, they are more able to connect with various perspectives while retaining their own agency (Edutopia, 2020). The “Human” core of the human rights perspective facilitates access to the human element in oneself and others, encouraging both autonomy and collaboration through the bond of humanity (Smith, 2009).

The creative arts help make abstract terms like universality, community, equality, dignity, and self-awareness more relatable to students and their audience, bringing experiential reality to otherwise abstract human rights issues, UDHR terminology, and even to mindfulness and SEL competencies. The arts have historically been a mechanism to draw sympathetic audience’s attention to social issues (Hart, 2013; Street Roots, 2012). The audiences watching the students’ culminating presentation connected with the human rights concepts portrayed in art form, particularly since the storytellers were their community’s children.

Significance of Integrating the Culminating Presentation as a Rite of Passage Experience

The National Standards for the Preparation of Social Studies Teachers (National Council for the Social Studies, 2018) includes an expectation that “candidates use knowledge of learners to plan and implement relevant and responsive pedagogy, create collaborative and interdisciplinary learning environments, and prepare learners to be informed advocates for an inclusive and equitable society” (p. 10). The “ordeal” and “coming through” elements of a rite of passage, as described later in this section, help participants gain and demonstrate knowledge with greater self-awareness, clarity of thinking, and sense of personal agency to positively engage with others (F. Marx, personal conversation with S. Sohcot, 2022; Gach, 2010). TWAICB has been welcomed in both school-site and community-based settings as a vehicle both for assisting youth in developing socio-emotional competence and a bridge to their exercise of effective agency in their families, schools, communities, and civic settings, becoming “informed advocates for an inclusive and equitable society.” TWAICB is, in effect, a path for “coming of age” as engaged members of the community. To signify the importance of their emergence into the community of engagement, TWAICB has constructed a rite of passage experience that helps initiate the students into being part of their community—school and beyond. Youth participants prepare a culminating performance and present it to families, peers, teachers, youth leaders, and community authority figures. They not only “show off” knowledge gained but engage with the witnessing participants as leaders and change agents. Rites of passage traditionally help people, especially youth, transition from one stage of their lives to another. Participants typically experience struggle, ordeal, or significant effort, and, after coming through the challenge, are celebrated by members of the community (Blumenkrantz, 2016). For youth, this initiation into their new status by their community elders is a positive, transformational experience. As noted in a presentation by Frederick Marx (Rex Foundation, 2013) and others (Blumenkrantz & Hong, 2008; Booth, 2013), they have gone within through mindful practice and projected their inner strength outward in the embrace of their significant communities, leading to a sense of more fully belonging.

There are many different rites of passage. The rite of passage that informs TWAICB is the Jewish B’nai Mitzvah. In this ceremony, a thirteen-year-old who has rigorously studied Jewish law and rituals prepares to present them before their community of family, friends, and congregation and demonstrate their acceptance of responsibility for upholding the principles they have learned. Upon completion of their reading from the Torah and reflection on their new responsibilities, the youth are cheered and celebrated by all present (Schwartz, 2020).

In TWAICB, students learn about the UDHR, including its history and its status as an international agreement affecting all people. This insight helps them validate their own inherent worthiness, negotiate their own inward responses to external pressures, and grasp their connections to the greater community, including not only school and neighborhood but also their city, state, country, and the global community. As they engage in a performative expression of their new understanding, student participants in TWAICB transition from recipients of learning to creators of meaning, prepared to “act for human rights.” They share with peers and significant adults their own ideas on human rights, using the UDHR as a touchstone. In Sohcot’s experience, this rite of passage exercise provides a validation of the creative spirit of each participating student, as ideas about human rights, expressed individually through dance, poetry, spoken word, or other forms, become part of a collective, compelling performance.

Based on direct leadership experience with the program, author Sohcot has observed how the rite of passage transforms learning about a historical milestone into an internalized sense of personal and collective responsibility for self and others. In the process, students undertake a “trial” as they put forward hard work to learn, create, build, and produce a common presentation. They then experience the pride of accomplishment and are lauded by their community of teachers, parents, administrators, and peers. Plus, they gain fundamental knowledge about an internationally accepted set of standards for human interactions applicable to their most immediate environments—classrooms and dining room tables—as well as in communities, nations, and international settings. The whole experience helps youth embrace their role in promoting equality, justice, and dignity within their immediate and extended communities. Youth who have participated in TWAICB regularly share with program staff and attendees at their performance a growing awareness of their relationship to local, national, and global concerns.


The World As It Could Be Human Rights Program Curriculum and Resource Guide, originally published in 2010, and updated each year since (TWAICB, 2022b), is geared toward students in high school since this is when the UDHR is most likely to be included, at least anecdotally, as part of World and U.S. History, as well as in language arts classes that include readings related to the Holocaust and World War II. There are six lesson plans, each designed to build the students’ understanding of the UDHR and how they can further its principles. Each lesson plan incorporates creative arts and activities to nurture critical thinking and SEL as described below.

One model that has informed the structure of the lesson plans is from the Technology of Participation (TOP) methods developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs (2021), to help community and business organizations effectively address their challenges. The TOP Focused Conversation Method (Spencer, 1989) is a critical thinking process that helps participants reflect on events or experiences to give meaning to them and determine how to act in response. The elements of this Conversation Method, known as ORID, include:

  • Objective identification of facts about an experience or event;
  • Reflective perception of feelings about the event or experience;
  • Interpretive consideration of the meaning and value of the event and its significance;
  • Decisional consideration of appropriate choices or actions, based on what has been learned (“ORID,” 2020; Stanfield, 2000).

The full Curriculum and Resource Guide is available under the Instructional Materials tab on the TWAICB website, The materials include:

  • Part 1: Background Information on the UDHR and Human Rights Education (HRE)
  • Part 2: Introduction to Creative Arts Teaching Methodology
  • Part 3: Exercises to encourage creative energy, mindful attention, and bonding
  • Part 4: Overview of Social Emotional Learning and its connection to HRE
  • Part 5: Lesson Plans, including learning objectives, associated curriculum standards, skills, activities and suggested questions to guide reflection and critical thinking
  • Part 6: Resources to support teachers in creating a unique experience for their students

The Lesson Plans

This section provides a brief overview of the lesson plans that make up the school-based TWAICB program as contained in TWAICB’s Curriculum and Resource Guide for Teachers and Organization Leaders (TWAICB, 2022b). Readers are encouraged to check out these lessons and the other resources, but also to make their own adaptations, appropriate to their circumstances, setting, youth participants, and community. TWAICB is an adaptive model. It works best when it intersects the lived experiences of the participants and reflects the pedagogical styles of the coordinating educators (TWAICB, 2022a).

Lesson Plan 1: Introduce the UDHR

Before encountering the UDHR itself, students create a gallery of the creative arts items they were assigned to bring in, such as photographs, poems, songs, or visual arts, which they connect with their idea of human rights. They describe their gallery item and why they chose it. Students then receive a copy of the UDHR, with background information on its history. They read the document and discuss how the UDHR Articles connect with their gallery of items. They then reflect on how different art forms help illustrate the meaning of the UDHR.

Lesson Plan 2: Reflect on UDHR Concepts through Creative Expressions

The instructor or team leader introduces major concepts and terms connected with the UDHR, for example, universality, interdependence and indivisibility, equality, and nondiscrimination. Students are assigned to research and write definitions of the terms, as well as given writing prompts such as, “What are different words to describe universality?” Groups of students create dramatic depictions of concepts such as dignity, justice, and freedom from fear, using movement or creating statues/tableaus. For each activity, students share their creative expressions and reflect on how these help them relate to the meaning of the UDHR.

Lesson Plan 3: Connect the UDHR Concepts and Values to Personal Experiences

This lesson plan helps students connect their day-to-day experiences with UDHR concepts, and gain greater understanding of how personal behaviors and actions connect to the broader concepts. Students write a personal story of when they have experienced or witnessed human rights being honored and/or disrespected. Students select or compose a song or poem that goes with their story or create dramatizations of their stories with the help of other students.

As stories are shared, guiding questions encourage deeper reflection and critical thinking. What human rights were honored or disrespected? What are possible reasons for the described situation? How might the good results be furthered or negative results diminished? How might proposed actions have positive impacts beyond the situation itself? How do these stories help us better understand the connection between the UDHR and everyday life? Sharing stories can be highly emotional, so an introductory discussion commits the group to agreements about how to respect each person’s contributions and address concerns in ways that generate understanding rather than conflict. A list of possible Agreements is provided in Appendix F.

Lesson Plan 4: Relevance of the UDHR to Local, Regional, and Global Issues, and Connection to People Involved in Addressing Those Issues

In this lesson, students connect one or more of the UDHR Articles to historical or current issues and consider how these issues relate to contemporary situations. They learn to employ the language of human rights as part of their own discourse. They also learn about people who have engaged their ideas, efforts, and energy to address the presented issue(s).

Students choose either a UDHR Article, a current or historical event connected to one or more of the UDHR Articles, or a current or historical advocate for or defender of the well-being of others. They do inquiry-based research to gain understanding of the event and how the event affected the rights of people and their access to equality, justice, and dignity. They explore a key person involved, including challenges faced, successes achieved, and work that still needs to be done. Then they create monologues, vignettes, and/or visual expressions to tell their story.

Guiding questions support the students’ research efforts. For example, what information is needed to fully understand the event, issue, and/or person to be researched? Why is it important to know about specific people involved in this issue or event? What do I want others to know about this issue so that they will care about helping to find solutions or create needed changes?

Lesson Plan 5: Explore the Universe of Obligation—Moving from Rights to Responsibilities

This lesson plan, inspired by the work of Facing History and Ourselves,, builds students’ understanding of the differences between and connections among rights and responsibilities as they explore how to become personally engaged in upholding rights and addressing responsibilities. The activities include reviewing Eleanor Roosevelt’s reflections on the connection of each person’s actions to overall human rights, as well as reviewing Helen Fein’s depiction of the Universe of Obligation (Fein, 1979).

Students use their personal stories from Lesson Plan 3 and research in Lesson Plan 4 to reflect on who is in their Universe of Obligation and who else (individual or group) is in their Universe. They examine the difference between a right and a responsibility and explore different ways they can address their responsibility to further the rights of those within their Universe of Obligation. Students identify small actions that can make a difference, as well as the more extensive work needed today to continue the work of the people they have studied. They may further examine their relationship with those they have identified as a part of their Universe, but not of their Universe of Obligation. Introducing students to the concept of small actions that make a difference teaches how seemingly minor actions, such as minimizing the use of plastic water bottles, or speaking up when seeing a friend being bullied, can have a positive impact.

Lesson Plan 6: Helping Create the World as It Could Be

This lesson plan provides students the opportunity to propose an optimal scenario to address the issues they have studied and explore how they can contribute to realizing this scenario through minute and broader actions. Participants collaborate to present a compelling presentation on what they have learned and how they will apply what they have learned. Through presentation and response, students experience being celebrated for their accomplishments.

The lesson plan activities require students to generate their own creative expressions on what they have learned and agree as a class on a connecting theme for their class presentation. The students organize all the elements needed for the performance, including script, staging, location, and invitations to bring together their desired audience. Guiding questions to support the students’ efforts ask what is important for others to know about the issue(s)/person(s) studied and the human rights connected to the issue. Students identify what they are prepared to take responsibility for in regard to the issue presented and what they want their audience to think about and to consider doing themselves to further human rights.

Adapting and Learning from the TWAICB Curriculum

The Video Library on TWAICB’s website provides examples of how students and participants in TWAICB training institutes have applied the curriculum lesson plans. TWAICB’s methods can be adapted to numerous educational settings. Teachers have used the lesson plans in history classes, language arts classes, and developmental psychology classes for adolescents. Most teachers with whom TWAICB has engaged in the operation of the program to date carry out the curriculum work between September and December, so as to have their culminating presentations coincide with the December 10th International Human Rights Day, though the timing should be based on what works best for one’s class and school.

TWAICB educators and planners, including author Sohcot, based upon their experience in building TWAICB and engaging with more than a decade of students and youth leaders, identify several strategies to build upon positive impacts of the student experience. These include encouraging the students’ extended community, including families, school administrators, district administrators, and community leaders, to attend the culminating presentation to provide adult involvement, acknowledgment, and encouragement. When possible, the program should include celebratory acknowledgment of the students’ accomplishments, such as a party with food, optimally with audience participation. Students should receive some form of official recognition for their accomplishments, such as Certificates of Completion. Upon completion of the main event, students may be encouraged to give additional performances to other schools and/or community organizations. A concluding reflection with the students can encourage them continue to share their work with others and even create a plan for further action.

While the curriculum is designed for high school students, it can be modified for elementary and middle school students. The concepts of rights and responsibilities can be differentiated so as to be appropriate to each grade level, offering developmentally appropriate exercises that help children understand how their actions affect other people, raising their levels of self-awareness and empathy, key aspects of mindfulness. Students can use creative expressions to reflect what they learn about terms such as fairness and respect. Examples of how the curriculum has been utilized in elementary grades and other class settings are provided on TWAICB’s website under the topic “Our Work in Use.”


The World As It Could Be Is Within Reach is a Rite of Passage curriculum developed by TWAICB (2022c) in 2014 for a Youth Center in an unincorporated area of Alameda County, CA, that experienced years of economic, social, and political marginalization. The Center offered free programs in recreation, career development, after-school enrichment, creative arts, literacy, and digital arts, as well as free medical and dental care and therapeutic counseling. Different agencies were responsible for each program. TWAICB worked with the on-site leaders of each agency to develop the Rite of Passage program, with full consensus on its learning goals and commitment for involvement.

Participating in similar creative arts activities as those described for the TWAICB classroom curriculum, students gain SEL skills that help them grasp that their own well-being and resiliency is interconnected with that of others around them, as well as to the vibrancy and health of the community at large. This process supports the overall goal of the program, which is to have participating youth explore what makes a community healthy and how they can take an active role in their own personal health and that of their community (Gach, 2010; F. Marx, personal conversation with S. Sohcot, 2022; TWAICB, 2022a). They are encouraged to make an initial commitment to that role. Students first learn about each other, followed by learning about the UDHR, utilizing similar activities as outlined for the in-class curriculum. Then, each following month, presentations and activities are undertaken to examine how each program component—Recreation, Education, the Arts, Career, and Health—contributes to the participants’ health and the vitality of the community at large. Students hear from guest speakers in each focus area, demonstrate reflective understanding of their connection to the human rights themes and are asked to commit to activities each week that contribute to their experience with each program component.

Midway through the program, students begin their efforts to develop a Community Action Project to address a focus issue they have identified that will contribute to a healthy community, using the UDHR as their guiding framework. The students also work on a culminating presentation to be given at the end of the program, inviting local public officials, business leaders, families, and friends to be the audience. The Community Action Project can also be utilized as part of the curriculum in school-based TWAICB projects. Documentation of each year’s class process is found on TWAICB website. These examples can provide a starting point for educators who wish to adapt TWAICB methods to their own settings.

Since 2016, after two years of being at a Youth Center, the program has become part of a high school located in the unincorporated area, under the leadership of a teacher who already uses TWAICB’s in-class curriculum. This has enabled the program to become more integrated within the school district and connected to other aspects of positive civic engagement.

As described in the Rite of Passage curriculum on TWAICB’s website, a set of guiding questions help students develop their Project. Based on activities and observations in their community, students identify three UDHR Articles that relate to an issue of concern and provide examples of the issues they have observed. Students then vote on the top three issues they want to address, using criteria such as the following developed by the students in the 2018–2019 class:

  1. The issue affects ourselves and people we know.
  2. It’s an issue we can do something about.
  3. It’s an issue that would appeal/be relevant to other people to get more involved.

Students then determine the desired outcomes of their efforts’ and the best strategies to achieve these results.

The Community Action Project resulting from this process in 2018–2019 was “Wellness is for Everyone.” The goal was to help address the high degree of stress and anxiety experienced by students that affected their right to an education. The participants developed a poster and campaign to encourage all students to use the school’s Wellness Center. They also developed their own presentation on managing stress and anxiety based on what they learned about mindfulness and other related strategies. They then delivered their presentation to other classes.

Both the in-class and rite of passage curricula require a commitment of time and energy and can be adapted as workable for each school, class, or program. TWAICB team members are always available to assist implementation efforts. The passionate responses of teachers and students strengthen the commitment of TWAICB’s facilitators to share TWAICB materials and resources and encourage their wider utilization. As one student stated when asked by the District Superintendent why the UDHR ought to be taught so extensively, “Well, I might not remember all I learned about math and English, but I will always remember how to be a better person.”


Jon Kabat-Zinn (2005) invites us to rest in what he calls “an orthogonal reality,” our existing “realities” with an added “orthogonal” dimension where “the problems of the conventional reality are seen from a different perspective, more spacious than that of a small-minded self-interest.” When, through mindful attention, we undergo a “rotation of consciousness,” we open ourselves and our world to “admit possibilities of freedom, resolution, acceptance, creativity, compassion, and wisdom that were literally inconceivable—unable to arise and sustain—within the conventional mindset” (p. 351). Democracies benefit from orthogonal positionality, Kabat-Zinn tells us:

For what is liberty, what is freedom, if not the possibility, the right, and even the responsibility of finding our own way in the world—trusting our instincts and experiences, learning as we go, growing as we learn, even from what is most painful and from our own mis-takes and mistakes?

Democracy encourages and nurtures pluralism and a diversity of views. It encourages making use of our freedoms, inwardly as well as outwardly in the pursuit of happiness. We are naturally drawn to understand ourselves in deeper and deeper ways as individuals, as a society, and as a species. (2005, pp. 551, 553)

Young people participating in TWAICB-based programs learn both inward freedom and outward initiative. They develop new dimensions of orthogonal awareness that prepare them to act rather than react, even when engaging with people with very different points of view, even when responding to acts of oppression toward themselves or their communities that entice them to react. Human rights awareness, grounded in their exploration of the UDHR, situates young people in a solid assurance of their own worth, their own value as members of the human family, and the value of their families, communities, and identity groups. At the same time, this assurance does not require the demeaning of any other person, even those whose privilege they are called upon to robustly challenge.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s tapped into this kind of inward peace to stand strong in the face of violence and hatred without either retreating or retaliating (Harding, 1996; Kabat-Zinn, 2005; Thurman, 1996). Indeed, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh formed a deep bond with each other, engaging in a “transformative mindfulness” (Jagers et al., 2019; Purser, 2019) that crossed racial, national, and denominational differences to build what they both termed “the Beloved Community” (Andrus, 2021). The late John Lewis, in Carry On, Reflections for a New Generation, published after his death wrote:

During the 1960s, we protested with nonviolent methods. There is something peaceful, cleansing, and wholesome about being orderly and non-threatening. It means standing up with a sense of self-worth and dignity. Yes, we were jailed, arrested, firebombed, bloodied. But we never felt hate, and even though it can be hard to hold back our anger, it is worth the effort because it works in the end. We changed America, and now the time has come for more change. (2021, p. 27)

Students who participate in the program described in this chapter are preparing themselves, with the guidance and support of their teachers, program facilitators, and communities, to confront a world that too often presents itself as a barrier to their self-actualization. They are learning to engage with that world in previously unanticipated ways, not from the margins, but from their own deep centers of self-worth, understanding, and capacity. They are answering John Lewis’s (2021) challenge “to redeem the soul of the nation, to create a society at peace with ourselves” (p. 27), envisioning and preparing to build The World As It Could Be.


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