What Should We Teach about Human Rights?

By Keith C. Barton, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Indiana University from Social Education 83(4), p. 212–216

Educators around the world have advocated for human rights to become a core element of students’ social and civic learning.  Although constitutional rights are typically the foundation for social studies and related subjects, human rights represent a universal and cosmopolitan vision, one that applies to citizens and non-citizens alike and is not restricted by national boundaries. Studying human rights can highlight our responsibilities to all fellow humans, not only those with whom we share national citizenship.

Human rights also point to a more stable foundation for safe, secure, and fulfilling lives. Constitutional protections can change with shifting political winds, and rights that once seemed secure can disappear when overturned in court, when leaders choose to interpret them in new ways, or when governments are overthrown. Although human rights have evolved over time (and continue to do so), and although their enforcement usually has less authority than national law, they nonetheless provide a societal vision that is more stable than the changing arena of national politics.

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