Each year, International Human Rights Day is observed on December 10 – the day that, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Codified during the slow recovery from the atrocities of World War II, the Declaration recognizes the inalienable rights to which all are entitled as human beings, establishing the dignity and worth of every person regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or status.
While empowering, the promise of the Declaration has yet to be fully realized here in the United States or abroad. UConn’s Human Rights Institute and its engagement arm, Dodd Human Rights Impact programs, in partnership with the Neag School of Education, are working to change that from the ground up with a new program currently in development focused on civic education and democracy for K-12 schools.
“We are focused on helping to rebuild the foundations of our democracy at the community level by empowering teachers with new skills and strategies to support student learning and civic action,” says Glenn Mitoma, director of Dodd Impact programs. “At the same time, we are looking to foster youth voice and leadership directly, by supporting their growth as human rights advocates. Our goal is to enhance civics education so that it contributes to just, equitable, and democratic communities.”
“The current political environment suggests that we should not take United States democracy for granted,” says Daniel Weiner, UConn’s Vice President for Global Affairs. “International Human Rights Day is an important reminder that civic education is at the core of a healthy democracy and democracy is at the core of human rights.”
As part of the observation of International Human Rights Day, the Neag School and Dodd Impact programs are jointly hosting a series of virtual workshops that introduce the intersecting fields of human rights education and civics education to undergraduate and fifth-year students in the Neag School’s pre-service teacher education program and in its Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates, or TCPCG.
The workshop sessions will cover topics including pollution, waste, and environmental racism; social justice in STEM education; human rights issues in U.S. foreign interventions; persuasive writing; teaching about human rights through literacy; food insecurity; Indigenous rights; genocide studies; and more.
“These workshops are an opportunity for future educators to develop a better understanding of how civics and human rights can be a part of any subject area and any grade level,” Mitoma says. “We hope they will take away new tools and be inspired to see their classrooms as spaces for democracy to flourish.”
The program will include a roundtable afternoon discussion hosted by Neag School of Education Dean Jason G. Irizarry and featuring opening remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education and alumnus Miguel Cardona ’01 MA, ’04 6th Year, ’11 Ed.D., ’12 ELP.
The roundtable will focus on how educators, administrators, students, schools, and universities can advance democracy and human rights, and in particular how critical stakeholders can better foster student voices and democratic participation through civics, human rights education, and school-community partnerships.
“Now, more than ever before, we must prepare students for engaged citizenship and to be active, informed members of their communities,” Secretary Cardona says. “Each one of us – students, educators, policymakers, parents and families, higher education professionals, and every American – has a fundamental role to play in upholding and protecting our democracy and helping to overcome our most pressing human rights challenges, so that our nation and our world can be even stronger for future generations.”
“Our mission as one of the leading public graduate schools of education in the country centers on improving educational and social systems to be more effective, equitable, and just for all,” says Dean Irizarry. “Equipping the next generation of teachers with a deeper understanding of civics and human rights education not only dovetails seamlessly with that mission, but is also a necessity for today’s schoolchildren. The Neag School — as well as the field of education as a whole — has an obligation to ensure that our youth go on to become informed citizens, fully prepared to engage and enact change in our democracy.”
The roundtable will also feature former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd; Conard High School teacher and Neag School alumna Abigail Esposito ’14 (ED), ’15 MA; Neag School graduate student Tyler Gleen; and Capitol Region Education Council Civic Leadership High School student Zoe Maldonado.
The program is a side-event of President Biden’s December 2021 Summit for Democracy, offering an opportunity to listen, learn, and engage with diverse voices committed to a global democratic renewal.
President Biden, who visited UConn in October for the dedication of the Dodd Center for Human Rights, is concurrently hosting a virtual summit for leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector focusing on challenges and opportunities facing democracies and providing a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
“As the President convenes this Summit for Democracy and reinforces America’s global leadership on human rights, we all must look closer to our own communities and recognize the opportunities we have to protect and advance our democratic values,” says Senator Dodd. “I’m proud of the work UConn and the Dodd Center are doing to educate the next generation of local, national, and global leaders.”
For Dodd Impact programs and the Neag School, this is an ambitious three-year pilot project that aims to directly engage key stakeholders, including educators and youth, in the development and implementation of a model of human rights education for civic action. It seeks to empower teachers with the knowledge, skills, values, and relationships necessary to become expert human rights and civics educators.
The program also hopes to foster youth leadership through experiential learning opportunities where they can make a direct and positive impact in their communities.
“UConn is home to one of the most dynamic interdisciplinary human rights programs in the country, with an excellent track record of fostering meaningful opportunities for student experiential learning and public engagement,” says Kathryn Libal, director of UConn’s Human Rights Institute. “This conversation today and the upcoming pilot project on civic education and human rights could not come at a more critical moment.”
Members of the UConn community and the public are encouraged to join the virtual roundtable discussion, beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, December 10, 2021, by registering here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I3QH5VsvQzKDeOCqPS3M_Q. The Zoom link to access the event will be provided following registration.
For more information about Human Rights Day 2021 at UConn, visit humanrights.uconn.edu/2021/12/07/human-rights-day-2021.
To learn more about Dodd Impact programs and about human rights education and advocacy opportunities at UConn, visit humanrights.uconn.edu.