A Global Perspective on Human Rights Education.
by Patrick, John J
Human Rights Day (December 10, 1998) marks the 50th anniversary of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On December 10, 1948, the United
Nations adopted this document. It is not legally binding on the signatories,
but it has moral force that commands worldwide respect. Thus, the United
Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a standard by which many
people throughout the world judge the conditions of citizenship and government
internationally and within their own countries. This document, which includes
30 articles pertaining to various human rights, is also a focal point of
education about human rights in schools throughout the world.
CONCEPTIONS AND ORIGINS
"Human rights are the claims that all human beings are justly entitled
to make merely by virtue of their being human" (Plattner 1995, 573). In
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when this idea became prominent
in Western Europe and North America, it carried the label "natural rights"
to denote derivation of these rights from the nature of every human being.
Each person, according to the natural rights concept, possesses equally
certain immutable rights by virtue of her or his membership in the human
species; it is the duty of a just government to protect these rights.
The United States Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776,
expresses the "natural rights" idea in these memorable words: "We hold
these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these
Rights Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers
from the Consent of the Governed. That whenever any form of Government
becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the People to alter
or Abolish it and to institute new Government . . . "
This Declaration of Independence by and for the people of a new American
nation still has global implications. The same can be said about the Declaration
of the Rights of Man and the Citizen issued by France's National Assembly
in 1789, which proclaimed: "The end of all political associations is the
preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man; and these
rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance of oppression."
The 1787 Constitution and the 1791 Bill of Rights of the United States
of America were designed and adopted to address the civic values of the
1776 Declaration of Independence. This Constitution reflects the understanding
among America's founders that the individual's rights are at risk if a
government is either too strong or too weak. A good government simultaneously
is empowered and limited. It is empowered sufficiently by the people to
secure their rights against domestic or foreign predators. And this government's
power is also limited sufficiently by the supreme law of its constitution
to protect the people's rights against abuses by their own governors.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the concept of natural
rights was transformed into the idea of human rights. This change reflected
an expansion of the scope or range of rights to include two types of claims.
The first and older type is negative; it would limit the power of a
government to protect peoples' rights against its power. The second and
newer type of claim is positive; it would enhance the power of the government
to do something for the person to enable her or him in some way. Thus,
the late twentieth century idea of human rights, which incorporates both
the positive and negative types, means that "certain things ought not to
be done to any human being and certain other things ought to be done for
every human being" (Perry 1998, 13).
The older negative claims on rights are exemplified by Articles 1-21
of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These Articles
imply that no government or society should act against individuals in certain
ways that would deprive them of inherent political or personal rights,
such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. The newer positive
claims on rights are exemplified by Articles 22-28 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. They imply that every government and society should act
for individual members to enable them to enjoy certain social and economic
rights or benefits pertaining to social security, employment, housing,
education, health care, and general standard of living.
CONFLICT AND CONSENSUS ABOUT NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE RIGHTS
There is general or global agreement among advocates of human rights
that both types of rights, the negative and positive, must be included
in a worthy constitutional government. However, there is worldwide conflict
or disagreement about which type of rights is primary and most important
in a constitutional democracy.
Advocates for the primacy and predominance of positive rights claim
that "bread is more important than freedom of speech." They argue that
the duties of government to provide social and economic welfare benefits
for all the people require enhancement of public power and authority to
enter all areas of economic and social life to promote the common good
(Patrick 1991, 622).
By contrast, proponents of the negative rights tradition worry about
the enormous increase of centralized government power required to provide
positive rights through large-scale public programs. This could lead to
a government so powerful and insufficiently limited that it could arbitrarily
deprive particular persons (those out of favor with authorities) of their
traditional personal and political rights. Thus, they maintain that human
rights generally depend upon the primacy of guaranteed negative rights.
They assert: a constitutional democracy that would only recognize negative
rights is incomplete; one that would only or primarily recognize positive
rights is impossible (Patrick 1991, 623).
ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVES ON THE UNIVERSALITY OF HUMAN RIGHTS
United Nations documents proclaim the universality of human rights,
as did Enlightenment-era philosophers and founders of the United States
of America. So, too, have major world religions recognized the equal worth
and dignity of all persons, a universalist idea that undergirds human rights.
For example, Pope John Paul II has often expressed the global or universal
relationship between human rights and the worth and dignity of each person
(Schall 1998, 59).
These claims to the universality of human rights have been disputed
by particularists and historicists, those who see them only as expressions
of Western civilization rather than as global aspirations and standards.
They view the current international surge of constitutional democracy and
human rights as cultural imperialism by the West against the non-West.
By contrast, universalists see a global destiny for human rights, a viewpoint
supported by the worldwide decline of totalitarian regimes during the latter
part of the twentieth century (e.g., the communist regimes of Central and
Eastern Europe). The universalists claim that people everywhere, if given
a choice, will choose free government and human rights.
CURRICULAR APPLICATIONS AND RESOURCES
There is a strong international movement for human rights education.
According to leading educators, teaching and learning about human rights
in age-appropriate ways is feasible and desirable from kindergarten through
grade twelve and beyond. Schools in most parts of the world have incorporated
human rights education into the curriculum. Further, international non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) are committed to human rights education.
Two important sources of information for human rights education are
(1) Human Rights Watch; 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104; T: (212)
972-8400; F: (212) 972-0905; E: <[email protected]> and (2) Freedom House;
120 Wall Street, New York, NY 10005; T: (212) 514-8040; F: (212) 514-8045.
Both organizations produce annual reports on the status of freedom and
human rights throughout the world.
Two university-based centers that produce first-rate educational materials
on human rights are (1) Center for Teaching International Relations of
the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver;
Denver, CO 80208; T: (303) 871-3106; F: (303) 871-2456; E: <[email protected]>;
and (2) Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University; 1108
International Affairs Building, MC: 3365, New York, NY 10027; T: (212)
854-2479; F: (212) 316-4578; E: <[email protected]>.
The United Nations, of course, is a key source of information and curricular
materials on human rights. The United Nations World Wide Web site features
"CyberSchoolBus," a collection of K-12 curricular materials and other resources
for teaching and learning about human rights and related topics, at <http://www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus/>.
For other United Nations educational resources, contact the United Nations
Office of Communications and Public Information, New York, NY 10017; and
contact UNESCO's Education Information Service, 7 Place de Fontenoy, 75700
Paris, France; <http://www.education.unesco.org/>.
During the second half of the twentieth century, support of human rights
has become prominent throughout the world, and the flagrant abuse of those
rights anywhere is likely to become a global concern. Most governments
in the nation-states of today's world recognize the legitimacy of international
interest in the inherent rights of every person, even if some do it grudgingly
or superficially. Given the global primacy of human rights, there should
be pervasive and systematic human rights education in schools throughout
REFERENCES AND ERIC SOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
Hatch, Virginia and Others. HUMAN RIGHTS FOR CHILDREN: A CURRICULUM
FOR TEACHING HUMAN RIGHTS TO CHILDREN AGES 3-12. Alameda, CA: Hunter House,
1992. ED 395 869.
Patrick, John J. "Individual Rights." In Charles F. Bahmueller, Ed.
CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR CIVIC EDUCATION. Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic
Education, 1991, 612-623. ED 340 654.
Perry, Michael J. THE IDEA OF HUMAN RIGHTS: FOUR INQUIRIES. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1998.
Plattner, Marc F. "Human Rights." In Seymour Martin Lipset, Ed. THE
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF DEMOCRACY. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc.,
Reardon, Betty A. EDUCATING FOR HUMAN DIGNITY: LEARNING ABOUT RIGHTS
AND RESPONSIBILITIES. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. ED 401 187.
Schall, James V. "Principles of the American Experiment." CRISIS 16
(June 1998): 59.
Shiman, David. "An African Perspective on Human Rights." UPDATE ON LAW-RELATED
EDUCATION 47 (Fall 1992): 40-47. EJ 469 724.