Educational materials and a celebratory process for the public schools, particularly high schools, that inspire youth to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to be engaged members of their local and global communities to manifest the document’s words.  The educational materials incorporate the creative arts as an integral part of the teaching process.


Long-term Vision:

The World As It Could Be Human Rights Education Program seeks to have public schools throughout the United States set the standard for:

  • Incorporating a human rights perspective in the teaching of social studies, history and language arts, as well as other subjects, whereby the underlying lessons promote an understanding of equity, justice and the pursuit of happiness for all people, and a striving to achieve those ideals;
  • Providing  students the opportunity to show their acceptance, as members of the global community, of responsibility for promoting the human rights perspective, and to have their peers, teachers, school administrators, parents, family members and local community leaders celebrate this rite of passage;
  • Valuing the creative arts as essential elements of a successful educational experience.

In the process, young people gain the objective knowledge and thinking tools to solve problems and successfully perform various types of jobs and services, but also learn to:

  • Appreciate and value the interconnectedness of all people and sentient beings throughout the world;
  • See themselves as vital contributors to the sustainability of the world around them, from their immediate circle of family and friends, to their local communities and the natural environment;
  • Seek ways to be responsible, positively engaged members of their immediate and extended communities, so as to help manifest all that is encompassed by the human rights perspective.

 Background and Program Context:

Balboa High School students share their thoughts on creating The World As It Could Be: A Declaration of Human Rights.

The World As It Could Be Human Rights Education Program is an outgrowth of a series of successful initiatives carried out since 2006 to educate and inspire youth and adults to further human rights for all people,  and to understand the type of individual and community engagement needed to compel constructive action. These initiatives used the creative arts to deepen learning about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); they also gave the youth, in turn, the chance to teach their peers and adults about the importance of manifesting the words of the UDHR. The initiatives include:

  • An original production called The World As It Could Be – A Declaration of Human Rights, created by youth of three non-profit organizations that utilize the arts in their work, under the direction of Ellen Sebastian Chang, to dramatize the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  There were two live performances in San Francisco: one on December 7, 2006 at the Presidio, for a convening of leaders of Presidio non-profit organizations, and the other on December 8, 2006 at Balboa High School, as part of that school’s curriculum on human rights.  Studio BAYCAT videotaped the performance; DVDs were produced and distributed, and continue to be distributed as a teaching tool;
  • An original production called The World As It Could Be – Where There’s A Will There’s A Way, created by the youth Performance Troupe of Destiny Arts Center, under the creative direction of Ellen Sebastian Chang, was performed on January 11, 2008 at Balboa High School, and videotaped by Studio BAYCAT.  A second performance was presented at Oakland Tech High School in Oakland, CA on April 14, 2008.   This performance was a variation of the January 11th production, reflecting additional elements from the original program developed by Destiny Arts Center as part of their programmatic work, called “Game Over: Escaping from the Dropout Factory,” which focused on how the UDHR was a vehicle for escaping the “Dropout Factory”;
  • Produced a Chap Book of creative writings about human rights and political will developed by three freshman classes at San Francisco’s Raoul Wallenberg High School, working with writing tutors of Rex grantee 826 Valencia, in connection with developing the dramatization performed at the two high schools;
  • Produced a CD of an anthem written and performed by youth of Youth Movement Records, another Rex grantee, in connection with developing the Where There’s A Will… dramatization.  The CD was inserted in the back cover of the Chap Book and distributed to all the high school students attending the performances;
  • Produced a DVD that contains the two original productions of The World As It Could Be, along with interviews of some of the students involved in the performance and the Creative Production team;
  • Worked with Balboa High School to develop a pilot public school curriculum to integrate the creative arts into the teaching of the UDHR;  creative arts activities were included in history, social studies and language arts classes dedicated to teaching the UDHR, followed by work to help the faculty and students present their own original production related to the teaching of the UDHR at a full-school assembly on December 10, 2008;
  • Introduced the draft pilot curriculum, performance DVD and Chap Books to two more high schools in the Bay Area, with activities underway to incorporate the creative arts in the teaching of the UDHR.
Arroyo High School students sing about human rights.

As a result of these initiatives, thousands of youth and adults have already gained new awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by their direct involvement in the development of the original dramatizations and related artistic materials, from attending the live performances, seeing the DVD and watching the performances of the Destiny Arts program “Game Over: Escaping from the Dropout Factory.”

From the work done on The World As It Could Be project, we have gained the following insights that form the basis for the proposed human rights education program:

  • The UDHR provides an essential framework for actively engaging in local and global efforts toward the achievement of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people;
  • Many people, across all ages and demographics, are not aware of the UDHR, even though the document is an official element of social studies curriculum in most public schools;
  • It is vital that youth have the opportunity to not only learn about the UDHR, but also be leaders in teaching its importance to their peers and to adults so as to promulgate civic engagement and further democracy;
  • The creative arts provide a powerful mechanism for teaching the UDHR in a way that compels student engagement and deep learning;
  • There are no specific rite-of-passage traditions within the American culture that provide the opportunity for youth approaching adulthood to publicly accept responsibility as engaged members of the community.
    • Such rites of passage, such as the Jewish Bar/Bat Mitzvah for 13 year old youth and the Quinceañera coming-of-age celebration for 15-year-old Latina girls, provide an invaluable opportunity for young people to be positively recognized and celebrated by their peers, ritual leaders, families and friends for their accomplishments.
  • The UDHR, given its approval 60 years ago by all the member countries of the United Nations, including the United States, is an ideal document for youth to study and use as their reference for accepting responsibility as members of the global community. Incorporating a culmination presentation and celebration of each student’s commitment to take responsibility to help manifest the words of the UDHR offers public schools the opportunity to be the forum that provides an American rite of passage that encourages and celebrates personal responsibility and civic engagement.

Program Description

The goals of the program for 2009 and the first quarter of 2010 are:

  • Have a comprehensive curriculum package that utilizes all current materials, including the DVD, that can be readily implemented in any type of high school to integrate the creative arts in the teaching of the UDHR;
    • Incorporate comprehensive professional development to ensure that teachers have the content knowledge and tools needed to enthusiastically, competently and creatively implement the curriculum
    • Incorporate into the curriculum a culmination presentation and celebration of each student’s commitment to take responsibility as a member of the global community
      • The presentation will reflect each student’s reflections on their study of the UDHR, their actions or community service related to this study, and what it means to them to be global citizens
      • The presentations will be celebrated by the students’ school community, parents and community officials
      • Evaluation elements will be included in the package to be able to measure the effectiveness of the program
  • Lay the groundwork to implement the curriculum in more districts in California and/or other states and to have the curriculum be considered as part of national educational policy;
  • Strategically expand distribution of the DVD and related curriculum to generally raise awareness about the UDHR and its role in furthering human rights and positive social change, utilizing Internet resources such as YouTube, as well as collaborating with mainstream human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and the United Nations.


Scene from the “The World As It Could Be: Where There’s A Will There’s A Way.”

Visionary Extraordinaire
The Libra Foundation
Walter & Elise Haas Fund

World Visionary
Susan Sillins

Elm Advisors, LLC
David Fortescue
Fred Gellert Family Foundation
Marsha & Ralph Guggenheim
Christine Pielenz