It was 2003; the second war in Iraq had begun and the airwaves were filled with gruesome details of war and battles. Sitting in a classroom chair, with second graders grouped cross-legged about me, I asked:
“What country have you been hearing about in the news?”
“Boston!” several shouted. I explained that Boston was in fact not a country, but a city, continuing:
“What country have you been hearing about that begins with the letter ‘I’?”
“IRAQ!!” they all shouted, immediately become very animated.
“They are terrible!”
“They kill people!”
“They want to murder us!! We have to kill them first!!!”
“We can’t let them get here!”
I was startled by this glimpse of how our younger generations process what they see and hear in the news, on the streets, and in their homes. I paused.
“I see," I said: "-and what about the children in Iraq?”
In matter-of-fact unison, they affirmed: “There ARE no children in Iraq."
I was puzzled by their definitiveness. Surely they couldn't have heard THIS on the news.
“Oh?" I queried, “-and why do you think there are no children in Iraq?”
“Because we don't see them."
The narrative in my head screeched to a halt.
I explained to the second graders that there were children in Iraq--children just like them who loved to play and to learn. They were dumbfounded by this realization and suddenly everything shifted:
“Are they safe?”
“Can they still go to school?”
“Do they play ball?” they wondered.
Suddenly a humanity was placed into the equation that had not existed just a few minutes earlier.
It was this moment that planted the seed that would fuel our evolution into a full-fledged human rights organization. That moment clarified the critical need for a curriculum that would not only guide students in understanding world events, but also enable them to connect to the stories of their peers around the world.
Eleven years later, we are proud to unveil the fruits of our labor: Generation Human Rights. Honed and holistic, our approach to human rights education is comes at an important moment when, many American states--like New York--are considering mandating human rights education in high school. A first in our country, this is an amazing opportunity, especially in light of how endemic human rights abuses and crises are around the world.
There are still great strides to be made. Despite progress, there is no standardized human rights curriculum or training available to the nation’s teachers. Generation Human Rights intends to fill that gap. Our Telling History Project curriculum provides three essential components: experiential and creative learning materials for students, professional support and training for teachers, and support tools for schools.
We strive to equip the next generation with the knowledge, expertise, and empathy to make an important difference in their local and global communities: A generation that forms opinions, and makes decisions, from the vantage point of connection and humanity.