By Sarah Herder
I was sitting on a plane headed to Boston in fall 2011 when I pulled out a slim packet I was to read in advance of the conference I was attending – “Building a Human Rights Education Strategy for U.S. Schools,” co-sponsored by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), the National Education Association, and the University of San Francisco’s School of Education.
Flipping through the pages as the airplane soared over America’s heartland, I knew why I’d made representing The Advocates at this conference a priority.
As I read, I realized that much of the educational policy work that we had been doing was also being done by individuals around the country. Individuals who would be at the conference and wanted to connect. I quickly devoured the pages. It was validating and exciting that they had come to many of the same conclusions about priorities and strategies for moving Human Rights Education forward in the United States.
At the conference, I found interesting, thoughtful people and engaging dialogue. I found that I had a lot to say.
“Our children are growing up in a world where globalization is changing reality in ways we don’t even understand yet. We can’t afford to have this be political. Kids have to start learning it.”
Everyone else had a lot to say, too.
“Only 8% of the public has heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it’s U.S. history! Eleanor Roosevelt was the key player in drafting and passing it.”
“Have you seen Mississippi’s standards? They’re great – some of the most progressive in the country.”
“We work with schools on bullying. It’s an intensive, schoolwide process if you want to do it right.”
“’Free and online’ is how lessons ought to be shared.”
“We are thrilled to report that they are close to passing the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.”
The environment seemed ripe, and the energy remarkable. We voted to establish a network.
Somehow, 16 months later, I now have the privilege of serving as the co-chair of this amazing collective of talented, dedicated individuals. Known as Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA), the group defines itself as “a national network of individuals and agencies supporting Human Rights Education in formal and non-formal educational settings in the United States.”
HRE USA facilitates mutual collaboration and support to maximize members’ efforts to:
- integrate HRE into formal and non-formal educational settings, such as schools, universities, and organizations that work with youth;
- advocate for the inclusion of HRE in national and state education policies, standards, curricula, and pedagogy;
- provide pre-service and in-service teacher training programs and HRE resources;
- contribute to global research and scholarship on HRE; and
- empower educators and learners.
As a testament to the demand it was meeting, HRE USA now has more than 200 members, including Pre-K to university-level teachers and students, administrators and policymakers, nonprofit organizations, unions, and other individuals committed “to promote human dignity, justice, and peace by cultivating an expansive, vibrant base of support for Human Rights Education (HRE) in the United States.”
The network’s values framework requires its members to operate with basic human rights principles. And we do. I have honestly gone to colleagues after conference calls and commented that the efficiency, intelligence, and kindness with which the group conducts itself continues to inspire and impress me.
In addition to my administrative role, I am also active in the Policy/Advocacy Working Group, which focuses on strategies to promote HRE-related policies and practices at all levels. This is one of several such groups that were created to allow the different strands of interest to continue simultaneously. Other working groups center around the themes of After-school/Community-based Programs, Higher Education, K-12, Online Resources, and Pre-School/Early Childhood.
The network is open for membership, and we welcome anyone who shares its mission and values. Interested individuals can simply go to our website, hreusa.net, and click on “Join Us.”
Once you are a member, you can join a working group, access our resources, develop or highlight your own initiative, and vote on leadership. Most importantly, you will find the exceptional community that I did in fall 2011 – one that will allow you to connect with others around the United States in a growing movement to promote Human Rights Education.
Sarah Herder is the Education Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.