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Pre-service teacher education and human rights: moving beyond aspirations to good practices

Tue, April 16, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Hyatt Regency, Pacific Concourse (Level -1), Pacific N

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session

Proposal

Human rights education (HRE) may contribute to education for sustainability as it aspires to ensure dignity, justice, and peace for all people, and is global in its language and scope. Across the world, HRE organizations, curricula, textbooks, and academic programs are on the rise. In countries such as South Africa and the United States, HRE has a significant presence in curriculum standards in K-12 education. It is our argument that in order for HRE curricula to effectively translate into classroom practice and student learning, teachers need to have access to human rights education themselves. To support this claim, in this panel we present four papers that address HRE in pre-service teacher education programs, with reference to both the U.S. and South African contexts.  
The first paper presents the results of a 2017 study of 76 accredited teacher education programs in the U.S. that shows little evidence that human rights are a meaningful component of US teacher preparation programs (TPPs). While evidence of direct engagement with human rights was small, the study does indicate that many schools of education engage with related fields, such as social justice and multiculturalism. These related areas, along with broader trends and challenges within college and university-based TPPs, offer potential pathways and bases for the integration of human rights into TPPs.
The second paper deepens the call for HRE within U.S. teacher education institutions, with reference to state curriculum standards. In the context of a growing presence of HRE in social studies curriculum standards throughout the country, the paper presents recommendations for the content and approach of pre-service human rights teacher education. Based on interviews carried out with 32 HRE specialists, these recommendations incorporate the sensitive nature of human rights topics. They offer ways to acknowledge and support teachers in bringing difficult and sometimes controversial human rights conversations into the classroom. Further, the recommendations address critiques by scholars in the field that HRE has not consistently been implemented in a way that can help to dismantle oppression. The paper emphasizes the need for thoughtful implementation of HRE teacher education using critical and decolonizing pedagogies that address both individual and systemic human rights violations and provide space for students to consider their own values around human rights.
The third paper points to the complexity of methodologies and student agency in understanding what is effective HRE. The paper presents the results of an HRE survey administered to 152 upper secondary school students in a Boston (USA) public school. The findings include students’ self-reported knowledge of human rights; student views on where they learned about human rights (for example, in the classroom, in the school, outside of school, etc.) as well as how (e.g., reading a textbook, watching a video, engaging in a social action project, etc.). The findings indicate that a range of methodologies (through human rights) were used effectively in HRE. Moreover, a subset of students who rated the influence of the school the highest were statistically more likely to have engaged in learner-directed actions such as extracurricular activities and participating in a social action project related to human rights, a reminder of the potency of students’ intrinsic motivation for HRE as an ingredient for taking action.
The final paper analyzes South Africa’s history curriculum from a human rights perspective and juxtaposes it with an exploration of the experiences reported by 75 pre-service high school history teachers in enacting policy and its requirements in a variety of schools in the Gauteng province. The results show that any successful integration of HRE into teacher education programs will need to take into account “teaching in the real world” as the South African study demonstrates that even with curricular supports, human rights oriented teaching can be undermined by inhibiting contextual factors, including resistant institutional cultures, dated practices by mentor teachers, and learners’ preconceptions fed by unofficial histories. The paper concludes by setting out ways forward with regard to human rights oriented teacher education and professional development in South Africa, suggesting possible solutions to bridging the gap between principles, policies and practices in the field of HRE.

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