Class helps integrate human rights into K-12 curriculum

Booming Twin Cities refugee populations bring local reality to global issues.

Marni Ginther

Reading, writing, arithmetic – and human rights?

That’s the concept behind the University’s Institute for Global Studies’ workshop designed to help K-12 teachers integrate human rights studies into their state-required curriculums.

The class, “Human Rights, Genocide and the Holocaust” is one of four week-long professional development workshops the Institute offers this summer.

Human rights education is becoming more important as human rights violations around the world are changing the faces of American classrooms, said Anoka High School teachers Andrew Frosch and Rachel Witham.

“For me, (human rights education) is a way to get kids to care. A way to say, ‘Hey, the people that are moving into your neighborhood that don’t look like you – you need to know a little bit about their history,’ ” Witham said.

Frosch said because of growing refugee populations in the state, teachers are finding themselves face-to-face with students who have undergone severe emotional trauma.

“These kids have seen so much violence right in front of them, and all of a sudden that’s in your classroom,” Frosch said. “You can ignore that, but then you have to deal with the consequences of ignoring it.”

Since the genocide in Darfur has attracted more media attention in recent years, Roseville Area High School teacher Yeng Chang said students are more familiar with it.

“When kids start hearing about it more in the media, we should really tie it into the classes,” Chang said.

Stephen Feinstein, program director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, teaches the class. He’s made an effort to include a broad range of human rights and genocide topics, rather than what’s familiar.

Class topics include the genocides of Armenians in 1915, native peoples during the colonial era, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and several others.

“The world is funny because it’s focused on a couple conflicts with a lot of intensity,” Feinstein said. “But for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t even killing as many people as other events around the world. But it gets more attention. That relates to the American political scene and how interest groups intersect.”

The Institute for Global Studies has also worked to promote human rights education at the University.

The University established the Human Rights Program as a branch of the Institute in 2001, said institute outreach coordinator Molly McCoy.

The program offers two courses consistently through the Global Studies program and recently began offering a graduate studies minor, McCoy said.

Program associate Rochelle Hammer said the program has grown consistently, especially at the graduate level.

But for undergraduates, it’s a little more complicated.

“A lot of teachers in various departments already offer classes that deal with human rights issues, but they don’t necessarily think of it as a human rights class,” Hammer said.

Since those classes are scattered throughout different departments, there is no central location listing all of them.

However, beginning with spring 2008 scheduling, Hammer hopes to post a list of all those classes on the program’s Web site.

“I think there’s great potential for collaboration across departments in the area of human rights studies,” Hammer said.