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Reviewed by:
  • Human Rights and Schooling: An Ethical Framework for Teaching for Social Justice by Audrey Osler, and: Restoring Dignity in Public Schools: Human Rights Education in Action by Maria Hantzopoulos
  • Nancy Flowers (bio)
Audrey Osler, Human Rights and Schooling: An Ethical Framework for Teaching for Social Justice (Teachers College Press, 2016), ISBN 9780807756768, 177 pages;
Maria Hantzopoulos, Restoring Dignity in Public Schools: Human Rights Education in Action (Teachers College Press, 2016), ISBN 9780807757420, 180 pages.

Although written well before the Trump Presidency, Human Rights and Schooling gains new relevance as educators address a regime that seems to violate basic principles of human rights and to endorse discrimination, violence, disrespect for truth, and a narrow national if not nationalistic perspective. Audrey Osler sees in human rights the necessary principles for living together in multicultural nation-states and communities and a framework for realizing equitable and just learning communities.1 Her book is both aspirational and highly practical, offering an ethical framework as well as solid, concrete advice for education in a heterogeneous democracy.

Informing the book is Osler's vision of human rights education (HRE) as "education for cosmopolitan citizenship," grounded in human rights and transcending the traditional "civics" course based exclusively on national history and legal frameworks. Such citizenship education would encourage young people to go [End Page 765] beyond exclusive identification with people like themselves to develop a sense of affinity with all humanity, recognizing the equal dignity of all people and the global community as interconnected and interdependent.

Osler eloquently describes the potential of HRE to build democracy and social justice and to create a culture "whereby human rights violations are not simply addressed through legal mechanisms but are prevented."2 She emphasizes HRE as an essential component of the right to education, an enabling right that secures access to other rights.

However, HRE is no political panacea. Human Rights and Teaching makes graphic the potential of HRE to be a tool for state manipulation and social control. At best HRE may encourage commitment to others' struggles for justice. At worst, when the dominant story taught in schools portrays an uncritical, sanitized version of "We the Nation," it can promote nationalism or feelings of moral superiority. HRE may be used for a "21st century civilizing mission" that reinforces the views of the powerful in the name of the nation or national values, by "managing student behavior and achieving compliance; insisting on blind obedience to the law or school rules; and encouraging students . . . to deny aspects of themselves, their cultures, and their languages, which distinguish them from the mainstream."3

Nor is HRE easy to implement in the real world of US educational bureaucracy with its fifty state departments of education and 13,506 school districts, each fiercely resistant to top-down mandates and threats to local autonomy. Because schooling systems are inherently conservative and national, they are necessarily in tension with HRE, which is based on cosmopolitan perspectives and agreed-upon international principles of human rights.4 Although this cosmopolitan vision may seem like a perfect counterbalance to the current shift towards isolationism and nationalism in the name of "making America great again," how is it to be achieved?

Osler affirms Eleanor Roosevelt's famous assertion that human rights must begin "close to home." She states: "This human rights vision is not primarily about international politics but about everyday living. It is about challenging micro aggressions, overcoming everyday racism, and everyday sexism."5 She exhorts educators to explore universal human rights within diverse contexts. Otherwise, without dialogue and consideration of people's specific social contexts, human rights, which are designed to be liberating, can be "part of a hegemonic discourse, used instead to control."6

This wise book challenges all of us to persist in seeking new ways to bring human rights into US education so that both the curriculum and the culture of our schools reflect the multicultural nation that we are.


Maria Hantzopoulos's Restoring Dignity in Public Schools: Human Rights Education in Action provides a valuable [End Page 766] counterpoint to Osler's book. Osler provides the theory; Hantzopoulos shows the practice. While Osler establishes an ethical framework for HRE from a global...


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