2016 Institute participants. Photo: Pat Steacy

TWAICB Director Sandy Sohcot writes: As we all posed in front of our “Human Rights” tree, exhilarated by the moving and inspiring culminating presentation at our 7th 3-day Institute, I felt renewed encouragement to continue our Human Rights Education (HRE) endeavors.

Ten years ago, when we launched this project as part of the Rex Foundation, raising greater awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and its continuing relevance as a basis for generating positive social change led to developing our first original youth-led production The World As It Could Be – A Declaration of Human Rights.   We had to go further with curriculum development when we saw that:

  • Very few people involved in the project — teachers, students and organization leaders — knew about the UDHR, even though it’s supposed to be taught in California high school history classes in the 10th and 11th  grades.
  • The participating youth were excited to have the UDHR as something to work for.
  • The creative arts were the catalyst to inspiring critical thinking about, then dramatically expressing ideas on the meaning of human rights and the importance of the UDHR.

In 2006, we didn’t know the term Human Rights Education (HRE).  Now, with years of experience at high schools using our curriculum, working with REACH Rite of Passage youth, and having so many people positively respond to our conference and Institute presentations, HRE is part of our vocabulary. We can explain HRE as vital, both in schools as well as organizational and public agency settings.    As part of my explanation, I offer this letter recently retrieved from a training presented by our esteemed colleagues at Facing History and Ourselves.

To me, HRE is the soul of education and job training. While students learn “reading, writing and arithmetic” to keep advancing their knowledge and skills, and adults must be trained in the technical aspects of their work, they could also learn that they are part of a greater, interconnected community—local and global, where their actions do impact others and make a difference.

Knowing this, we can see ourselves and other people as human beings worthy of dignity and fairness. With this awareness, we can act with empathy and compassion to constructively address not only immediate issues like hurt feelings or disputes among people we know, but also the seemingly intractable challenges related to homelessness, poverty, violence, political strife, and terrorism.

I am hopeful that we can collectively nurture a “Human Rights” Tree that stands strong because we pursue education in the classroom and on the job that reaches our hearts and souls as well as our brains.