How Do I Talk To Students About #MeToo?

How Do I Talk To Students About #MeToo?

How do we frame the issue of women’s rights as one of human rights? How does the #MeToo movement fit into this? How do we as educators, discuss this provocative topic in ways that dig deeper than the headlines of glittering celebrities and Hollywood? Finally, how can we position our students to understand the complicated issues that still face women and girls today?

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The Human Rights Education Imperative

Rationale for integration of human rights education. 

Contextualizing human rights helps students to realize their importance and the effect they have on events in history and the contemporary world, helping them to understand more fully current events as well as work more sensitively cross-culturally, a skill demanded not just by international firms but also in local contexts.  The name Woven Teaching is meant to highlight the idea that certain components of good teaching should be woven through all lessons:  critical thinking, global citizenship, literacy, social responsibility, evidence-based analyses, and human rights.  There are already multiple, important movements to have “art across the curriculum”, “math across the curriculum”, “reading across the curriculum”, as well as the STEM and STEAM movements.  Likewise, social responsibility, global citizenship and human rights are themes that should be included throughout a student’s path to graduation.  What Woven Teaching provides is the means, through curated high-quality lessons, to implement this in classroom teaching.

Responsible citizenry. 

A common understanding of human rights is the basis of civil society and responsible citizenship.  Within a society, this understanding and belief in the value of others is necessary for a peaceful and safe daily existence.  It is an essential part of a healthy, livable society. Moreover, engaged and involved community citizens are more likely to understand the issues of the day and participate in elections, ensuring a more representative selection of government officials and policies.  Without this engagement, democratic institutions can quickly wither and die.  “Silence and indifference to suffering and infringement of rights in any society will encourage this.” They need to be appreciated, nurtured and protected, something that an understanding of these institutions throughout history can illuminate for students.  

    Worldwide, collaborative protection of the rights of all people encourages peace, economic growth, and limits the floods of refugees that result from international extremist ideologies.  Studying human rights can “also initiate understanding of personal responsibilities and the dangers of remaining silent; apathetic or indifferent to the suffering or witnessing of violence to others”. Understanding why mass violations of human rights like genocide happen “enables insightful perspective, and comparative analysis of prejudicial behaviors around the world and how the individual participates either as a perpetrator; bystander or victim”. Finally, “by being aware of early warning signs, we can avert future tragedies. We can understand that the “Holocaust was not an accident in history; it occurred because individuals, organizations, and governments made choices that not only legalized discrimination but also allowed prejudice, hatred, and ultimately mass murder to occur”, leading to seemingly endless repercussions from the Cold War to blueprints of future genocides, the creation of the state of Israel and the largest wave of refugees in history.

Educational efficacy. 

Critical thinking is an essential skill for responsible citizens.  Contextualization, “to understand the patterns of the past - developing a complex understanding of the how, the who, the where, the when and the why”, can help people understand the complex situations they face in their own time.  “An equality and human rights education is an essential part of high quality teaching and learning. The topical and real-life nature of the subjects can help schools to deliver a balanced, relevant curriculum that helps students to make sense of the wider world.” An ability to work in diverse environments and “simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort”. “Young people need to understand equality and know their rights, to understand both how they should be treated, and how they should treat others. Teaching these topics creates a safe place for students to explore, discuss, challenge and form their own opinions and values.”

Economic success for individuals and states.

The economic benefits of tolerance and appreciation of global human rights have been shown in several studies.  Individuals who are able to work well with others different than themselves are likely to have more personal economic opportunities.  Those who can see problems from multiple angles have a greater capacity to contribute to solving those problems effectively.  Individuals who are more tolerant have higher incomes on average than those who don’t.

    On a larger scale, research across numerous academic disciplines has shown that societies which are more tolerant and more diverse have higher gross domestic products and are more innovative than homogenous ones.  In addition, “a growing number of studies . . . suggest that geographic proximity and cultural diversity—a place’s openness to different cultures, religions, sexual orientations—also play key roles in economic growth”. “Diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down”. “Findings overwhelmingly suggest that cultural diversity and geographic openness matter significantly to economic development across the board.” “They found that cultural diversity has a positive impact on economic development; “nations that practice discrimination are at a disadvantage”.

The ultimate importance of human rights education.

There are so many humanitarian crises right now that many people start to think that nothing they do matters or can make a difference, and there is just so much suffering around the world that it will never change.  They see the DRC, Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, CAR, Darfur, Burundi, Nigeria, etcetera and feel overwhelmed and powerless.  Moreover, the West, the self-proclaimed bastion of democracy and tolerance, is in many ways in crisis.  There is a lack of faith in elections and news sources.  Europe, Australia and the United States are refusing refugees and cutting humanitarian aid just as the world is facing its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.  Many are dispirited as verified facts are widely denied in favor of conspiracy theories and growing extremism, hate crimes and hate speech are on the rise and the sinking feeling that the government isn’t really listening to the majority of its citizens.  

    Indeed, this can be disheartening, even more so if there is no historical context within which to understand it, no skills to determine opinion and unjustified assertions from facts, and no awareness that there are multiple internationally agreed upon universal rights that individuals and groups are supposed to be protected by.  However, I believe that working on education about human rights in the United States and Europe will help to raise a generation that will see us all as citizens of same planet and all people as equally deserving of fair and humane treatment.  I believe that human rights education enables students to grow up to be effective, contributing members of democratic society.  I believe it is critical to defending the rights of people at home, and to protect others in far away places, not only because it is simply the right thing to do, but because it will protect us from further crises in the future as humanitarian catastrophes never have only local consequences.  That is my greatest hope.

 - Jessica Bylo Chacon