Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Choices Program Brings Human Rights Debate into High School Classrooms

September 21, 2010

Over the past several decades, discussion about human rights has permeated international relations, creating a surge in treaties, institutions, and social movements. Yet while the general principle of human rights has been broadly accepted, human rights abuses persist and questions about the subject remain hotly contested.

The Choices Program is aiming to increase deliberation about human rights in secondary school classrooms, with the recent publication of a curriculum unit on Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for US Policy

Drawing on the expertise of faculty from Brown and other universities to develop readings, case studies, and other learning tools, the guide helps students examine the evolving role human rights has played in international politics. At the center of the curriculum is a simulation in which students debate and deliberate four distinct options for US human rights policy.

In addition to this guide, related videos and other materials have also been posted online, and an institute for teachers was held during the summer.

“Our Scholars Online videos bring some of the leading public intellectuals in the area of human rights directly into the classroom, and with their deep understanding and experience they are able to address complex issues in ways students can relate to,” said Choices Curriculum Developer Andrew Blackadar.

The Choices Program sees its human rights materials as cutting across a range of subjects under study in classrooms across the country. “Human rights is a way of looking at and understanding the most important problems of the world – of thinking about inequality and justice,” Blackadar said.

Added Curriculum Writer Susannah Bechtel: “These materials challenge students to think about the scope of human rights and realize that it’s not just about people on the other side of the world.”

The Choices Program, affiliated with the Watson Institute, develops secondary school instructional materials on current and historical international issues and provides related professional development for teachers. Competing Visions of Human Rights, supported in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is the latest in Choices’ library of over 35 curriculum units.