Sunday, 29 January 2017

Rights and Responsibilities: 2017 Edition

Protestors gather at JFK Airport after Donald Trump's executive order, 28 January 2017. Picture: Getty
A few months ago, before the election result which none of us expected but really should have, I wrote a post about how Donald Trump inspired me as a CSPE and History teacher - not because I admire him, but because the incendiary and offensive comments he was making about whole swathes of people should inspire every teacher of history and civics to speak out.

Then he became President of the United States. Reading back over that post now I'm struck by how self-assured I was as I derided him. Like so many others, I thought there was no way this man could actually succeed, so I could afford to be ironic and dismissive about him. Like so many others, I was wrong, and I still feel silly about that self-assurance. Now, just over a week into his presidency, his words and actions only reaffirm to me that yes, we do have a responsibility to speak out. No dismissiveness, no jokes. Just a responsibility.

Of course, teachers are individuals with their own differing beliefs and opinions, and that's perfectly fine. Some current events, however, go beyond politics. To anyone who thinks it's overstepping the mark for a teacher to actively speak out like this, I'll ask you one question:

Could you stand in front of a class full of young people and justify Donald Trump's ban on people entering the United States because of their nationality?

As CSPE teachers we explain to young people the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I'd like to share a few articles from them.

UDHR Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

UDHR Article 9
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.


UDHR Article 13
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.


UDHR Article 14
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

UNCRC Article 9.1
States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests
of the child.

The UNCRC, of course, has been ratified in every country of the world except the United States.

We teach our young people that discrimination is wrong, whether we're teaching about human rights, reading from the Diary of Anne Frank, listening to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, or dealing with an instance of bullying in our schools. When introducing the UDHR in 1948, former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt asked and answered an important question:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” 

I ended my previous post by saying that Trump had given us a lot of work to do. Let's get to it.

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