University News

High school program promotes human rights

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Brown-sponsored high school education project released a new curriculum that examines historical elements and modern implications of human rights. The unit resulted from an idea that sparked 10 years ago but was just completed in June.

“The idea was that human rights had become such an important aspect of looking at international relations issues, and it was a way that a lot of the world’s problems were being addressed,” said Andrew Blackadar, director of curriculum development for the Choices Education Program, a national education initiative in partnership with the Watson Institute for International Studies and the Office of Continuing Education.

“Students and teachers were interested in this element of looking at these problems. Human rights doesn’t necessarily fall into any traditional high school social studies curriculum, and so we wanted to provide a way that people could get really good information about it,” he said.

This approach is the aim of the Choices Program, which intends to provide materials for secondary education classrooms that otherwise would not be included in a traditional curriculum. Founded in 1988, Choices has released a number of printed and visual materials covering current issues such as the earthquake in Haiti, the U.S. response to terrorism and contemporary Cuba.

The program’s products are used in over 8,000 U.S. high schools — about a third of all secondary schools — as well as many international schools.

The program aims to inform young people about international topics “so that they become active, engaged citizens of the world,” Blackadar said.

Choices Curriculum Writer Susannah Bechtel, who wrote the human rights unit, titled “Competing Visions of Human Rights: Questions for U.S. Policy,” said she was happy to help address the interest in human rights.

“Today, you can look at so many pressing international issues through the lens of human rights,” she said.

The curriculum features scholarship from a number of Brown professors and other figures such as Susan Allee, a visiting fellow and senior political affairs officer at the United Nations; Professor-at-Large Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile; and Dennis Davis, a high court judge in South Africa.

This sort of scholarship is typical of a Choices curriculum, which contain information given by various Brown faculty and scholars, who are not paid for their efforts. Rather, Choices is a nonprofit and intended to be affordable — a printed curriculum costs $25 and may be copied without restriction — so that individual teachers may partake in what Blackadar calls the “democratization of information.”

“Professors at Brown don’t get paid for doing it. They’re doing it because they’re all so invested in the mission in providing this to as many people as possible,” Blackadar said.

Emmett Fitzgerald ’10, an international education intern for the program, notes the enthusiasm of Brown’s faculty for the program.

“Professors are excited at an opportunity to spread their knowledge about a topic and their scholarship about a topic outside a university setting to kids across the country,” Fitzgerald said.

Blackadar said that yet another unique aspect of Choices is that every curriculum is updated every year, so as to “stay as close to current events as possible.”

In the meantime, the human rights curriculum is for sale to secondary teachers throughout the world. Though exact numbers of the curriculum’s sales are not definite yet, Blackadar said he believes that it will be successful.

“It’s been ticking over pretty well,” he said. “It’s getting out there, and it will exist for a while.”