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By any humanistic standard, human rights should be the common property of mankind. However, they are not yet broadly available to the majority of the world's people. Any advance in their realization on any front benefits in one way or another the people of all nations.
Human rights represent an especially critical problem in an interdependent world. Their wider realization is increasingly required in achieving understanding, cooperation, and peace between and among nations as well as within nations. Countries with extensive human rights may sometimes seem unstable or inefficient, but those without substantial human rights are not likely to endure.
The subject of international human rights should be of natural concern to American educators sensitive to our country's origins and development, particularly in this Bicentennial period as we reassess the past and try to help shape the national course for the future. As we have learned in the civil rights revolution in our country during the past decade, America cannot be America without a national value system that has at its core a firm dedication to enlarging human rights and individual liberty. Despite manifold shortcomings when measured against the theoretical ideal, the fact remains that largely because of its major contribution thus far to the biography of human rights on this planet the United States continues to represent the most successful demonstration yet of the potential of human beings in a free society.
This book will help laymen understand the legitimate interest that the international community has in the manner in which governments treat human beings. Our national interest requires similar concern. As both the present volume and current international developments make clear, the U.S. Government does not regard human rights as exclusively a domestic matter. Increasingly, both the Executive and Legislative Branches are expressing a higher level of official concern in foreign policy terms. The authors' judgment that "the international protection of human rights is rapidly emerging as a political issue of enormous moral force” is borne out not only by the evidence cited in the book, but also by such developments as "Basket III" in the 1975 Helsinki Agreement and the daily news events as this book goes to press. In the current crisis in southern Africa, Secretary of State Kissinger has called upon the governments concerned "to take account of the conscience of humanity." There is clearly strong U.S. concern for the rights of all the people involved.
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
States and the continuing national commitment to fuller achievement of human rights in the pursuit of a "more perfect union" in our multi-ethnic, pluralistic society, American education would seem to have an almost inevitable responsibility to take the lead in educational attention to international human rights. As a matter of individual right to enhance personal growth as well as of national interest in an interdependent world, each student should have the opportunity to learn about the principles and issues of international human rights to enable him or her to understand the problem and ultimately help contribute to its solution through a global perspective on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in an interdependent world.
This book will contribute significantly to raising the level of awareness and understanding of educators concerning the issues, problems, and efforts in international human rights. It has the important related values of stimulating reexamination of how well our schools are doing in teaching about human rights in the United States and reinforcing existing efforts to place the American experience in world perspective and vice-versa.
With the inclusion of all the basic international human rights agreements and instruments of the major international and regional organizations, the clear explanation and analysis of each, the basic information about the international and regional systems for the protection of human rights, and the summary of the involvement of the United States in international human rights, the book can help educators in the U.S. and elsewhere develop a basic understanding of both the political and educational aspects of the subject.
The book not only provides essential background material, a variety of ideas, and a stimulus to future study, but also contains much helpful specific information which will enable teachers to strengthen present efforts or initiate attention to this important subject in the classroom. Of special interest is the opening chapter which focuses on the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education Relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The chapter includes a detailed analysis of the Recommendation and the U.S. contribution to its development. Many teachers will find particularly useful the later chapters dealing with the summary of research on students' international knowledge and attitudes and with the critical review of selected educational materials currently available for dealing with the principal topics of the UNESCO Recommendation.
As one considers the full range of possible approaches to preparation for teaching about international human rights, appropriate attention should be given to possibilities for cooperation between and among nations. At the international level, as the first chapter of this book makes clear, UNESCO already has made a significant contribution through its 1974 Recommendation. While not without flaw, taken as a whole the Recommendation represents an important broad consensus on principles and practices concerning education for international understanding. Various opportunities exist for experimenting with other forms of educational cooperation through regional organizations,
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 very 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.