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In our democracy in this era of increasing global interdependence, the international knowledge of citizens young and old must be broadened to strengthen public support for enlightened foreign policy and effective participation in international cooperation. An appropriate concern for international human rights is now an essential element in citizenship education.
We know generally that in the United States students acquire most of their perceptions about international affairs outside the school, particularly from television. Regardless of the actual source of knowledge and of the question of what should be the responsibility of the educational system, a variety of studies show we still have a long way to go to meet the more traditional and non-controversial objectives of international education in the schools.
The most recent carefully designed study is Other Nations, Other Peoples, a national survey of what a representative sample of American students in Grades 4, 8, and 12 throughout the country know and think about the rest of the world. The extent of serious ignorance and misconception revealed in many of the findings is disturbing. This important study of the formation and change of international knowledge and attitudes was conducted by the Educational Testing Service for the U.S. Office of Education and involves data collected in the fall of 1974. The final report of the study has just been completed, and a summary is scheduled for publication by USOE in late 1976.
Education concerning international human rights, a topic now as fundamental to international education as any commonly considered, is clearly more complicated in several respects than learning about the geographic location, natural resources, or national leaders of other countries. It is a subject that requires the kind of systematic analysis that formal educational programs can provide. But it is also a subject that would benefit greatly from more careful attention in the mass media. Educational television could play a particularly important role, perhaps in some instances in conjunction with the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.
While many subjects and issues of major contemporary importance have found their way into the American curriculum during the educational reform movements of the past twenty years, international human rights has not yet entered the mainstream of educational concerns. American schools have done an increasingly commendable job of dealing with the complex challenge of human rights in this country, but like educational systems elsewhere they hardly have begun to face the international dimensions of the subject.
The study of international human rights has a unique contribution to make to the international knowledge and attitudes of teachers. But it is especially significant for the students now in school for the global orientation of the first generation of citizens who will have to cope with the fullness of interdependence. Each teacher — and every student - is a potential founding father for the future. A global perspective on human rights should be part of the basic education of everybody from now on, particularly for those who are going to live the balance of their lives in the 21st century.
Given the role of human rights in the revolutionary origins of the United
bilateral efforts, or special arrangements. For example, an interesting next step that the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO might consider in helping maintain its present momentum on behalf of international human rights would be the joint sponsorship with the UNESCO national commissions of selected other countries of a scholarly comparative study of the treatment of international human rights in the secondary school textbooks of the cooperating countries.
There should be no illusion about the great magnitude and difficulty of the challenge that international human rights education represents for the schools. Not only does the subject have its own special complexities, but its importance is not widely understood in or out of school, little educational attention has been devoted to it to date, good instructional materials are relatively scarce, the number of teachers who are well trained in the field is small, and
few teacher education institutions are yet equipped to prepare teachers through either preservice or inservice training programs.
Cynics might argue that educational effort on behalf of international human rights is a waste of time, that political reality precludes effective action. There is no doubt that international human rights in the real world is very complicated business. The difficulties are compounded by the complexities of both human nature and national sovereignty. However, the case for devoting serious attention in the schools to international human rights is clearly justified by the subject's intrinsic significance, its natural relationship to the American creed, its contribution to the development of a global perspective, and its long term consequences for effective citizenship in an interdependent world.
The human value system is at the heart of the matter. A proper concern for human rights at home and abroad needs to become part of the shared commitment in the minds of men,” to use UNESCO's time-honored phrase. Whether the spirit and perspectives are those of the founding fathers of a free society or of contemporary voices like Nobel laureates Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, human rights are fundamental to the achievement of human potential.
To borrow a related perspective from Nigel Calder in the postscript to his important new book about how and why it happens that people are predisposed to learn to be civilized” and “why in spite of it our human world is noted for its adult sins and follies'':
Our nature commits us to being political animals, even when the constituency is no larger than a family. Fretting about issues of right and wrong is the price we have to pay for being more sentient than the ants, and for having the opportunity to make social progress. But a renewed sense of wonder about our privileged position in nature, and about the rich and vulnerable qualities of human life, may heighten political wisdom.*
*Nigel Calder, The Human Conspiracy: The New Science of Social Behavior. Viking, 1976, p. 136.