When brainstorming ideas for our year long school project we discussed our mutual interest in international culture, our shared passion for Human Rights, and our hopes for global improvement. While searching for ideas, we went to a screening of the documentary Half The Sky at our school, and became inspired. We realized that lives are being taken everyday, and we are 17 years late in stopping that. How are we supposed to eliminate inhumane treatment in the world when children are oblivious to this harsh reality? In The U.S. and other more democratic countries, most people, kids especially, are uneducated and sheltered from the fact that millions of people everywhere are kept from the rights they deserve. We felt passionately that we had to reach the generation below us. We believe that by teaching kids when they are young to think as a global citizen, it will create a more united future. The lessons one learns in elementary school, how to be kind and respectful, can easily be applied to the study of human rights. This will help children understand the importance of equality not only from a classroom standpoint, but also from a global standpoint.
This past month we had the opportunity to teach three classroom sessions at our local elementary school just outside of Chicago. We were inspired by the Half The Sky movement and used much of their information and guidance to drive our lesson plan. We spent time searching for the source of unethical treatment. We believed that by teaching children about these issues you are able to prevent the spread racial and gender oppression. We concluded that our first lesson was to be about building friendships based on common interests and appreciating other’s differences. Through games that worked to build a respectful environment and highlight the non-physical similarities between kids, we taught the importance of ethical treatment for all people. We were amazed by how much they understood and how much they had to say. We focused on the knowledge that they already had and tried to guide them through the thought process by asking questions like, “What does it mean to show respect?”
Our goal for day two was to introduce the idea of Human Rights and help the children to identify ways in which these rights are being violated. We found it essential to emphasize the fact that nobody’s rights are more important from another; that in order to have a just society, all of the human rights outlined by the United Nations must be obeyed. In an effort to emphasize the importance of equal gender rights we did a social experiment with the class. We gave a piece of candy to all of the girls and a few of the boys. Then we pretended as if we had run out of candy. In order to highlight how unjust it is to value boys over girls, we took candy from the girls and gave it to the boys who had not receive any. This lead to an extremely in-depth discussion about the importance of equal treatment for men and women as well as a discussion on how crucial it is for all people to attend school.
The goal of our third lesson was for the students to apply what they learned to life in their classroom community as well as life as a global citizen. We had groups of children create their own country. The only boundary was that they had to come up with a Bill of Rights for their new land. The kids completely understood the significance of the subject, and came up with lists including things like “everyone has the right to be free,everyone has the right to feel safe, and everyone is treated fairly”.
They were so hung up in this idea. Equality. What if someone doesn’t want to be treated the way you want to be treated, what if thats not right for them. The golden rule has far too many flaws in the mind of a second grader. Fair, that was the word we settled on, fair. The notion that in order to protect someone’s human rights and show respect for others you must treat them the way that will be best for them. Their observation was so astute that it drove our discussions over all three days. We were truly astonished with the amount of respect and excitement they showed for one another and the study of Human Rights. Our goal was to broaden their perspective and understanding of cultures other than their own, in such a way that forbearance was part of their everyday interactions. With their help we feel as though we truly accomplished our goal. We helped them understand that awareness is the first step to an impact; and they could help to make the world a fair place. The tremendously energetic, passionate, and curious group that we worked with grasped all of these ideas willingly and completely. We feel so fortunate for the opportunity we had to work with them.
Heather Gerth and Molly Davis are both 17 years old and attend New Trier High School. They are both contributors to Youth Political Engagement.