ALAN v27n3 - Professional Resources Connection: Resources for Teaching Human Rights Issues to Young Adults

Volume 27, Number 3
Spring 2000

Professional Resources Connection

Kathleen M. Carico,

Resources for Teaching Human Rights Issues to Young Adults

Kathleen M. Carico
Lee H. Brown Susan Ariew

Each semester as I prepare for a special focus on poetry for my young adult literature class, I think of a favorite Gary Soto poem, one I have memorized and often recite for the class. It is called "Eating Bread," and it is about a father and his little girl enjoying a moment of happiness as they sit together on their front porch eating bread. I remember it and recite it because it represents to me a central incongruity of life: that great beauty and joy can co-exist on the same planet and at the same time with great sorrow, suffering, and evil. I thought of it again as my colleagues and I prepared this column on resources for classroom lessons on human rights. What Lee Brown, Susan Ariew, and I will share here are the works that deal with both the ugliness and beauty found in stories of marginalized groups from various eras and numerous locations across the world and the individuals that give the groups a human face. Reflected in each of the reviews are the conflicts inherent in a decision to present some of these very disturbing issues to young people. Just as the father in Soto's poem wrestles with the knowledge that his little girl, now trusting and innocent, will have to confront evil in the world, so do we know that sooner or later, our students must confront the same. Although decisions about the when and how of that confrontation will vary according to the particular needs of our school communities, it is our hope that the resources in this column will contribute to a thoughtful consideration of the issues involved.

First, I reviewed a book of essays on human rights issues; a text and video teaching package from "Teaching Tolerance," a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center; and "Honesty and Hope," an insightful and informative article on teaching novels whose young adult characters are victims of human rights abuses. Following those are Lee's reviews of a new book on Holocaust literature for adolescents and Susan's reviews of several web sites that deal with human rights issues.

Williams, Mary (Ed.). ( Human Rights: Opposing Viewpoints . 1998). San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 1998. ISBN: 1-56510-797-7 (hardcover); 1-56510-796-9 (pbk.).

This volume is part of the Opposing Viewpoints Series , books which present edited collections of original essays from various sources (e.g., scholarly journals, newspapers, government documents, periodicals), on a variety of topics (e.g., censorship, homelessness, feminism, social justice), by authors both famous and unknown. Although the original works are edited for length and for presentation to a young adult audience, they remain coherent, challenging essays.

The volume entitled Human Rights begins with an introductory debate on the question of the universality of human rights versus human rights as a western concept, previewing both the issue and the format that will follow throughout the book. It continues with chapters containing 6-8 essays expressing various viewpoints on four major issues: defining human rights; the current state of human rights; what should be done to stop human rights' abuses; and the world's response to human rights abuses. The presentation of issues (e.g., women's rights, child labor laws, the problem of land mines) from a number of perspectives includes questions for consideration and allows students and teachers to engage in critical reading and thinking, including a consideration of author bias. Following each segment is a bibliography of supplemental articles that could be useful in further research. The book ends with further questions for discussion, a list of organizations to contact, and a bibliography of books.

This book is an extremely valuable resource, not just because of the issues presented, but because of the central message that we must not be afraid of other viewpoints. If, as the authors themselves point out, democracy is to survive, we must learn to talk together about difficult concepts, and our talk must include the discussion of perspectives other than our own.

The Shadow of Hate: A History of Intolerance in America , 1995. Published by Teaching Tolerance: A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Montgomery, AL.

The Shadow of Hate is a teaching kit aptly titled for it shows how incidents of violence and hatred have cast a shadow over the progress of our nation toward a democratic ideal of "liberty and justice for all." The kit includes a volume of readings, a videotape, and a set of lesson plans to supplement both. It is available to teachers free of charge. (See " Note " below.)

The videotape, The Shadow of Hate , produced by Academy Award winning Charles Guggenheim, is a 40-minute documentary with original footage and effective narration of historical episodes of intolerance in America. It previews, but does not replicate the accompanying 129-page volume of stories entitled Us and Them . The stories trace a history of human rights abuses in our country, from the execution of Mary Dyer in 1660 for her religious beliefs, through an 1838 confrontation between a group of Mormons and Missouri settlers, to the harassment and death in 1984 of a gay man in Maine. Written by Jim Carnes, the director of Teaching Tolerance, the stories are accompanied by photos and drawings, excerpts from related documents, and suggestions for further reading, including non-fiction and historical fiction materials.

Neither the stories nor the videotape are sensationalized diatribes against one particular group or another. Their point, it seems clear, is not to blame, but to reveal seeds of intolerance that may grow in any group as illustrated in the many stories in which either greed, selfishness, violence or ignorance are at the root of intolerant behavior. However, I do believe that, along with this kit, it will be important for teachers to show that our American history has also been one of progress, however slow, toward our ideal of equality for all humans. As Reid and Stringer ( 1997 ) point out in an insightful article on presenting troubling issues to teens, it is important that we provide a "window of light" in scenes of our darker chapters of history. This window, I believe, could be easily provided through the stories of those who have made a difference for marginalized groups in our country, who have worked toward the democratic ideal. The ideal is not reached yet, however, and the stories in The Shadow of Hate remind us that continuous progress is to be vigorously sought.

Bond, Gwenda. "Honesty and Hope: Presenting Human Rights Issues to Teenagers through Fiction." Children's Literature in Education . v. 25, no. 1, pp. 41-53. March 1994.

This article is a review essay of books about young adult victims of human rights' abuses in various countries throughout the world. Although several other books are mentioned, Bond focuses on the novels of James Watson, Rachel Anderson, and Beverly Naidoo. Watson's Talking in Whispers is the story of Andre Laretta, a young man tortured at the hands of a military junta that has just taken power in Chile. In No Surrender , Watson tells the story of Malenga, a young nurse and teacher kidnapped in 1991 by South African guerilla forces. In Anderson's The War Orphan , young Ha, a Vietnamese war orphan, comes to live in England with 14-year old Simon's family. Simon decides to research Ha's past, and, in doing so, uncovers the brutality that Ha and countless others faced during the war. Naidoo's Chain of Fire , set it South Africa, focuses on the consequences of resistance when fifteen-year-old Naledi, her brother, and others in her village decide to fight the oppression they are facing from outside forces.

These stories are, according to Bond, painful and sometimes brutal accounts of the characters' experiences. Likely too graphic for young adolescents, Bond suggests, however, that older adolescents could be prepared to benefit. Along with the honesty of the portrayals is a message of hope that, in spite of the torture, deprivation, or horrors of war, the characters have acted with love, courage, and a solidarity that transcends evil and demonstrates the best in human nature. Bond's analyses of the books, and of the issue of presenting them to teenagers, will be invaluable for those who wish to use these books in the classroom.

Note: To order a free copy of The Shadow of Hate (one per school), contact the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave, Montgomery, Alabama 36104 , 334-264-0268

Works Cited by Carico

Reid , S., & Stringer, S. "Ethical Dilemmas in Teaching Problem Novels: The Psychological Impact of Troubling YA Literature on Adolescent Readers in the Classroom." The ALAN Review , 24.2 (1997): 16-18 .

Soto, G. A Fire in my Hands: A Book of Poems . New York: Scholastic, 1990.

Reference Citation: Carico, Kathleen. (2000) "Resources for Teaching Human Rights Issues to Young Adults." The ALAN Review , Volume 27, Number 3, Pages 55-56.