As a social studies teacher, I find Struthers’ article about whether or not human rights is a “controversial” topic for the classroom to be a very interesting perspective (2016). There is a section of the NYS Social Studies curriculum that is specifically dedicated to human rights, so it is something I am familiar with teaching. I think what makes this different however, is that the human rights violations that are taught about in social studies are the large-scale atrocities such as genocides like the Holocaust or Darfur. These are horrific events in history that are well-known and generally regarded as crimes against humanity. Students understand that they are human rights violations. I think Struthers brings up a good point however, that maybe the small-scale, not so publicized human rights violations that take place all around us are not treated as such. The lessons on human rights that I teach are to 10th grade students. At this point, the students have mostly developed their values and ideas of basic human rights. So I can impact their perspectives, but only so much. I agree with Struthers that the ideas of basic human rights should be taught to students earlier on. The concept of genocide would clearly be too heavy for an elementary school student, but teaching about fundamental rights (food, shelter, water, an education) can lay the foundation for these students to be able to identify violations much sooner in their lives around them.
I feel as though I have the benefit of being able to easily work in discussion of human rights into my content that I teach. Nearly any history lesson involves some sort of relation to the subject. For other content areas, for example math, it might not be as simple to tie into a lesson. I think tying in current events to nearly any subject can be an easy bridge to relate your subject matter to an idea about social justice. A lesson about statistics can be used to talk about achievement gaps. A science lesson can be turned into an inquiry about Flint’s water crisis. What was the cause? Who is being affected? How can the problem be solved? Why hasn’t it been solved yet? I think any lesson where you can relate your content to the world around your students is the most effective lesson you can teach. It makes the lesson relevant and it makes your students care. This is not something however that may come naturally to teachers. As with everything, it requires practice and time to work at it. The more teachers are trained and prepared to teach about social injustice, the more they will teach about it and the better the lessons will be. This can start at the school level, with identifying the social justice situation within a school system. Identifying what problems lie within the school can be a great start, especially addressing achievement gaps (Poplin & Rivera, 2005). There is always room for improvement and always something that can be worked on.
Poplin, M., & Rivera, J. (2005). Merging Social Justice and Accountability: Educating Qualified and Effective Teachers. Theory Into Practice,44(1), 27-37. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4401_5
Storms, S. B. (2013). Preparing Teachers for Social Justice Advocacy. Multicultural Education, 20(2), 33-39.
Struthers, A. E. (2016). Human Rights: A Topic Too Controversial for Mainstream Education? Human Rights Law Review,16(1), 131-162. doi:10.1093/hrlr/ngv040