Take No Prisoners

Why Nobody Understands Human Rights (hint: had none in school)

Many adults do not understand human rights – what they are, why they’re important, how their presence or absence affects the well-being of society. As far a I can tell, the reason adults don’t understand human rights is that they didn’t learn about it in school. What’s worse, even if human rights issues are covered in social studies or ethics classes, it’s damn near impossible to convey the importance of human rights when the humans in the class don’t have any. It’s like trying to explain the importance of the internet to people without electricity. Here are 6 ways schools systematically undermine rights education by ignoring human rights in their own practices.

6. No trials

If a students is accused of wrongdoing, he has no right to any sort of trial or tribunal, and sometimes no opportunity to defend himself. Consider, for example, the no-tolerance policies for fighting at some schools. Self defense? Bah. Never through a punch? Bah. You’re suspended anyway.

5. No elected government

Schools are dictatorships. The students get no say in who’s in charge or what the rules are.

4. No mobility rights

Just imagine if, as an adult, you got up to go take a piss and some dude told you to sit your ass back down and hold it. I’d be so shocked, I don’t know if I’d even have the presence of mind to tell him to go fuck himself.

3. No right to privacy

Here’s a favorite in movies: the teacher intercepts a note and reads it in front of class. Who the fuck does she think she is? Interfering with the post is a federal offense in many countries, but nabbing student’s notes is ok? Another: police need a warrant to search your house or car, but your kids locker in school? Nope. Here’s one that’s far more nefarious: a Canadian school board is considering mandatory drug testing for students.

2. No freedom of association

Something that always rotted me was when teachers give detention to whole classes because some of the students were loud or otherwise misbehaved. This is taught in education degree programs as a method of encouraging students to self-police. Bullshit. It teaches students that punishing people for the actions of others is ok and that freedom of association is nonsense.

1. No freedom of speech or expression

And here is the kicker. Uniforms. No Swearing. No criticizing your school on MySpace. No describing scientific research that conflicts with the views of the school. No criticizing human-rights-violating referendums. Et cetera.

So when the Bush Administration turned the US into a dictatorship, when people are held in prisons without evidence or trial just because they were near by where trouble happened, when people are told to watch what they say and not criticize their governments, when the government spies on its own citizens and taps their phones with no prior evidence, don’t expect outrage. Nobody’s surprised, because that’s what they grew up with.

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