Commemorating UN Human Rights Day

In his 1941 State of the Union speech, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed that four freedoms should be enjoyed by people everywhere in the world. Those freedoms were:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

This speech, and the concept of the Four Freedoms, led to Eleanor Roosevelt making a personal push for the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which explicitly lists the rights to which all human beings are entitled. Since 1950, this has been celebrated as Human Rights Day, a commemoration of that historic document, and an opportunity to remind the world of its responsibility to uphold human rights of every citizen of this world. This event is a terrific teachable moment. It allows us to not only discuss what human rights are, but to examine regions where they are violated.

EDSITEment has a three-day lesson plan that asks students to analyze the meaning of the word freedom across time and place. Students will hone their skills of interpretation, while utilizing their creativity with some well crafted assessments.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has a terrific lesson exposing the hypocrisy in Roosevelt’s speech, as the United States forced Japanese-Americans into internment camps after entering World War II.  This lesson also analyzes the term freedom, and then asks the students to put themselves in the shoes of an interned American.

Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms were immortalized by American artist Norman Rockwell in four separate oil paintings. These works have their own place in the classroom, as they add the additional element of visual document analysis. Once again, EDSITEment has a great lesson that analyzes Rockwell’s Freedom of Speech painting, also asking students to find other examples of freedom of speech in America.

The Norman Rockwell Museum has a series of lessons about each painting, including creative activities that ask students to continue thinking about human rights in their world. These lessons ask students to picture themselves as characters in the paintings, while inferring how these painting would look today.

Amnesty International has a long list of lesson plans that encompass numerous human rights broken up by grade level. These lessons cover freedoms including education, marriage, and religion, and includes a specific lesson on the UDHR. Amnesty International also has a poster series and teaching guide for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that includes lessons about the different articles of the UDHR.

Human rights and the frequent violations of those rights are often well chronicled in literature and film. Help Teaching has numerous worksheets that can be used in conjunction with with a reading or video to further bring home the message of equality that is so important when discussing the UDHR.

The poem “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes describes the mistreatment of African-Americans in a free verse poem. A worksheet about the poem would certainly amplify the human rights message. The film Hotel Rwanda is a graphic, but powerful representation of the genocide of the Tutsi people at the hands of their Hutu countrymen. Help Teaching’s worksheet that accompanies the movie, and gets to the heart of this tragic, modern human rights violation.

Too often social studies examines the past without making connections to the present. Human Rights Day gives teachers the opportunity to examine this remarkable document through the lens of the time it was created, while evaluating the progress the world has made in enforcing its idyllic notions.

Looking for more great social studies teaching resources? Try Help Teaching’s social studies worksheets and self-paced lessons for students!

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