Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why Did I Create a Page for The Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

Freedom From Want - Norman Rockwell

My friend, colleague, and fellow Teaching Ambassador  Elaine Romero posted her resolution on Facebook this morning:  “2012 is here! I am going to learn more about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and tie them to my work. (They keep crossing my path)!”
They crossed my path, too.  On December 10, I wrote “How Things Have Changed in Two Years.”  The occasion was the Vermont Human Rights Day Conference.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on December 10, 1948. For this reason people throughout the world have chosen to celebrate this date as Human Rights Day.  There were several references at the conference to the UDHR.  I made a mental note to check it out someday.  This morning, thanks to Elaine, I did.  Doing so deepened my understanding and appreciation of the conference, and I resolve to begin framing issues with reference to this document.
Some highlights for me:
Article 23.
(1)    Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2)    Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3)    Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4)    Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Article 24.
    Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Don’t these go together well?  Article 23 (4) provides the mechanism for the realization of the vision – and is the reason this blog exists.  Since (and before) 1947 the United States has thrown up all manner of creative roadblocks to thwart workers’ rights “to form and to join trade unions.”  We’ve recently seen some new and clever iterations in Wisconsin, Ohio, Alabama, and other states.
Article 25.
(1)    Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Economic rights are addressed by Article 25.  A belief in “freedom from want”  drives us in the Health Care is a Human Right campaign, the effort to make Vermont the first state in the nation to adopt a single payer system for health care.
Article 26.
(1)    Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2)    Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
26(2) is particularly interesting with regard to the current wave of education reform (some say “deform”) in the United States.  It sets forth a broad vision for education and its purpose – a purpose that cannot be measured by tests, but only by the quality of action that is undertaken by a nation’s citizens.  Success in education can be measured by the degree a nation respects the human rights set forth in the UDHR.  How does the US measure up?
The UDHR was drafted in 1947 by the UN Commission on Human Rights chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.  Two major treaties emerged, the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" and the "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights."  Together with the UDHR these are considered the “International Bill of Rights.”
I wanted to find out how the US dealt with the “International Bill of Rights.”  I consulted the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute's web site and discovered the following:
  • "....President Carter has signed the "International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights" for the U.S., but the U.S. government and the people of the United States have not yet generated the political will necessary to ratify this Covenant
  • .....the U.S. has consistently attached reservations to the human rights treaties that it has ratified. These reservations have evoked criticism from many non-governmental organizations that argue they limit the legal impact of the treaties in the United States
  • ....every country in the world -- except the U.S. and Somalia -- has ratified the 'Convention on the Rights of the Child.'"
Evidently the United States appreciates political rights, especially when they can be used to bash opponents in propaganda contests - and we like it even better when those rights are toothless concerning American behavior.  Economic rights?  Not so much.  Somalia?  What sort of company is that for us to keep?
This to me is far more of an indictment of our education system and our nation than any test can measure.  If you don’t get the fundamental purpose of education right to begin with, if you make it exclusively about readin’ ritin’ and ‘rithmetic, about what sort of job you can get, about the suitability of graduates for employment, etc. you’ve lost your soul before leaving the gate.
A nation that fails to teach its people to care….has it taught them anything at all?

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