Framing Universal Human Rights

Intentionally titled “Social Studies,” rather than, “History,” the curriculum of this department at Whitfield focuses on the experience of diverse historical actors and the study of diverse historical narratives. The teaching of critical thinking skills is emphasized, and a premium is placed on helping students learn how to integrate, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate both primary and secondary sources and to develop empathy for the people who lived in different times and places.

Students in Modern World History 10 are exploring the themes of power and equality through the lens of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  As students examined the UDHR they dissected its 30 articles, identifying purpose and theme repetition. Adopted in 1948 in response to the Holocaust and WWII, students developed a historical frame of reference through supportive readings and class discussions.

“At the beginning of this unit I asked the students to come up with topics they were interested in learning about in relation to the themes of power and equality and overwhelmingly they wrote down WWII and the Holocaust,” said faculty member Grace Barlow. “I hope they will gain perspective on the lives of others and gain a broader world view of what it means to be human.” 

Sophomores were tasked with working together in small groups to first dissect the UDHR then to compare and contrast case studies of other mass atrocities including those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Burma/Myanmar, and Syria.  Each group was assigned six of the UDHR’s articles to analyze in depth and then share their findings with the class in a group presentation. Finally, each student selected what they think are the top three non-negotiable human rights in the UDHR and wrote an essay defending their choices using what they learned from the case studies as evidence.

“I think it’s good that we are having these conversations so that we can be more informed about the concepts of power and equality as they relate to history and to current events,” said Savannah Harris ’22. “During our seminar discussions one of the questions we talk about is What can we do? because these atrocities keep happening. I think if we can try to care more about other people and their cultures that would help.”

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