Magazine article Radical Teacher

Introduction: Radical Teaching about Human Rights: Part II

Magazine article Radical Teacher

Introduction: Radical Teaching about Human Rights: Part II

Article excerpt

In our introduction to the first of these two issues of Radical Teacher devoted to "Radical Teaching About Human Rights," we cautioned that all forms of Human Rights Education (HRE) are not radical. The problem, we pointed out, with rights discourse is that it can mask the politics of how rights are defined, whose rights are recognized, and how they are enforced. This problem becomes evident when HRE is bound up with a neoliberal, or worse than neoliberal, perspective that points fingers at others and rallies troops for supposedly humanitarian interventions while eliding the role of the United States as an imperializing settler colonial state. Fortunately, we have once again received several essays that seem to us to be aware of this danger and provide admirable examples of radical teaching about human rights.

While most educators would turn to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the founding document for HRE, we noted that those who shared our radical perspective were more likely to draw on later developments in human rights discourse, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and non-UN-based indigenous or internationalist political movements. We also highlighted the radical potential of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, which insists that HRE needs to be about, through, and for human rights. This description mirrors our understanding of radical teaching as not a matter of authority figures depositing knowledge in empty vessels (what Paolo Friere called the "banking system" of education), but as a mutual process of awareness and empowerment (what Friere called "conscientization"). The problem with even well-intentioned teachers leading students to predigested epiphanies reminds us of what Eugene Debs said when asked why he advocated for democratic socialism rather than authoritarian political forms: "If I led them into the promised land, someone else could lead them out again."

Our belief that radical teaching is a matter of form as well as content led one in-house reviewer of Rosemary Blanchard's "Mainstreaming Human Rights Education: What's Radical About That?" to answer the question with: Not enough. This reviewer was concerned by Blanchard's assertion that "to the extent that content standards and performance standards govern public education, HRE needs to be there." We were likewise uncomfortable when Blanchard wrote that "It isn't a question of whether or not standards or particular configurations of standards are a good idea" because this has been a big question for us. Past issues of Radical Teacher have strongly opposed the movement for core standards and Learning Outcomes Assessment as reducing the process of education to "teaching to the test," sacrificing form on the altar of content.

However, as co-editors, we appreciated Blanchard's willingness to engage with our concerns and even foreground her disagreement with some of the assumptions made in Radical Teacher's previous issue on HRE and in our call for papers. Blanchard's essay maintains that American illiteracy about human rights and international humanitarian law standards contributes to the climate in which the United States preaches human rights to its perceived opponents while refusing to apply these universal principles to itself. Blanchard's admirable experience with HRE in a variety of formats has led her to believe that from the failure to incorporate into the American educational structure the cultural and linguistic rights of Indigenous peoples and ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities to the refusal to submit to the same standards of international humanitarian law which apply to all combatants, U.S. political and military leaders have been able to rely on the unfamiliarity of most Americans with the fundamental principles of human rights and international humanitarian law to insulate them from effective public scrutiny and meaningful challenge. …

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