The Triangle Fire and Human Rights

Triangle Fire forms the first literature unit for my 8th-graders’ human rights dissertations

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Here’s the chart that shows the progress each student has made during the school year. This goes up on my wall in early September and remains up until the project is finished in March.

This week I’ve been writing about the unit on the Triangle Waist Co. fire that my 8th-graders start the year with. For them, the last few weeks of seventh grade was an introduction, a sort of “paving the way” for the more in-depth reading and studying that we will begin in just two short weeks. Check out my Monday post on the Triangle Fire resources that I use and some of the activities that we do. Check out my post from yesterday that discussed how I connect Triangle Fire to another horrific disaster, the 9/11 attacks.

Today, I’m going to write about how the Triangle Fire study forms the first section of a project that I call the 8th-grade human rights dissertation. Human rights education is vitally important in my view.

If students don’t know what human rights are, how will they know when those rights are being violated?

There are many materials available to use in teaching human rights. Since I began this project, I used materials produced by an organization known as Youth for Human Rights International. However, since I learned last year that YHRI is a front organization for the Church of Scientology International, I have decided not to use them anymore.

Read my post, Dear Parents: The Church of Scientology Wants to Get Inside Your Child’s Classroom, about that topic. This year, I will be developing new curriculum based on materials from other organizations.

Read my other post, Dear Teachers: Avoid These So-Called Educator’s Kits from the Church of Scientology for alternative human rights education materials I’ve located.

The human rights dissertation is a project that I have done with my 8th-graders for three years now. The first year was a complete trial-by-fire and I hesitate to even let it count since we literally ran out of time toward the end of the project. The second year was a success. Students completed the dissertations in the way I foresaw the project culminating. This past school year was again a successful year, and I would say an even more successful year than the first because I modified and/or improved the project in several ways, which I will discuss later.

The human rights dissertation is actually an expanded five-paragraph essay. Throughout the year, as we read and study these texts, students determine three human rights that each text supports or are revealed in the text that need protection or upholding.

It’s really up to the student to determine how they wish to discuss the rights; as the year progresses I am aware of the direction that they are taking with respect to the human rights and the literature we read. The founding document that we study even before we write the Triangle Fire section of the dissertation is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1948 document drafted by a United Nations committee led by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, in response to the atrocities of World War II.

There are six sections to this project:

  • an introduction
    • Students write this usually after all their second drafts have been finalized, usually in mid-February. This introduces the entire scope of the paper. We spend a lot of time honing these sections and massaging them into being revelatory personal statements.
  • an explanation of  human rights
    • -Students usually write their first draft for this section in September.
  • a section that connects the Triangle Fire to three human rights
    • -Students usually write their first draft for this section in October.
  • a section that connects “Inside Out and Back Again to three human rights
    • -Students usually write their first draft for this section in November.
  • a section that connects Frederick Douglass’ Narrative to three human rights
    • -Students usually write their first draft for this section in late January/early February.
  • a conclusion
    • Students usually write their first draft for this section in February

First drafts and second drafts are assigned as homework. I have very detailed take-home packets that provide students what they need to know for their drafts. First drafts can be any length, but second drafts will have a two- to three-page length requirement.

Second drafts for each portion are written throughout the year, i.e. they are not written immediately after their first drafts. I believe in taking a break from a piece of writing so the second draft will be a homework assignment a month or two after the first draft is written.  This also gives students time to get that first draft written if they failed to do it on time initially.

Students keep paper copies of their first drafts, which have my notes and revision suggestions, in the file cabinet in the classroom.  They also have digital copies in Google Drive.

As students turn in their drafts, I put a sticker on a large chart on the wall. At any moment, students and I can see their progress.

After we write our second drafts, students must pay special attention to connecting their “essays within the essay.” They complete several rounds of revision as they attempt to make their individual sections blend from one to the next. This gets interesting and students know by this time that this is a needed task.

I’ve even had students, before we get to this point of the project, ask me in class, “Mrs. Yung, how are we gonna make this flow? It can’t just sound like individual papers.” And then to myself, I think, “Hallelujah! They figured it out on their own!”

It’s so wonderful to know that they have learned how important it is to make our ideas connect smoothly in our writing.

This paper gives me the opportunity to reinforce the concept of what I call “interpretation,” the explanation that is needed when quoting from a source or text. This is a skill we practice all year, but the human rights dissertation is the project where this skill really shines. I require at a minimum that each quote from each text be followed by four to six sentences of explanatory exposition that reveals how the quote supports the point they are making.

My go-to piece of advice for students is to make their first or second sentence after a quote begins with “In other words,…”

Last minute additions to the paper include a comprehensive Works Cited page and a title page. The details for these items are included on a final to-do list that students use as they go through the project. The title for these papers is “Humanity Revealed: Understanding Human Rights Through Literature;” however, students may use another title if they wish.

This sheet also has several editing and revision requirements listed, as well as an approximate timeline. We devote about three to four weeks to revising and finalizing these papers in class. Lastly, I provide them with a heavy-duty Avery Flexi-View report cover.

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It’s such a good feeling when students start turning in their dissertations– for them and me!

The human rights dissertation is really my “piece de resistance” of my language arts classes. By the time students finish theirs, they’ve been my students for three years, and I’ve learned so much about their abilities, their interests, their personalities, and their goals for the future.

I truly enjoy watching students wrap up their dissertations and they are always excited to see their accomplishment. Many of them will end up with a paper that is fifteen or more pages long. Some even really go “all out” and see just how much they can write. It’s always a discussion to see who has the longest paper! (And yes, I make a point to tell them that more doesn’t mean better, but for middle schoolers to be excited about writing “just one more page,” who am I to shut that down?!)

As this project kicks off in the fall, I will be posting about it and providing news and photos about any changes that I decide to make this year.  One change I may make is to allow students the choice to add a World War II text to their paper. This change is discussed in this post I recently wrote called “How to Forget the Holocaust.” I plan to eventually add the handouts, timelines, and editing checklists to my future TpT store.


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog to find out more about this project and to receive updates about changes I make to it this year! Do you do a similar project with your students or do you have any suggestions for me? Feel free to leave a comment!

Dear Teachers: Avoid these so-called “educator’s kits” from the Church of Scientology

Try these human rights resources instead.

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Photo: By Pictorial Evidence (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I recently wrote a post on Medium and my sister blog called “Dear Parents: Scientology Wants to Get Inside Your Child’s Classroom” about how an organization known as Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) offers a human rights educator’s kit for teachers to use in their classrooms. Not realizing that the YHRI was a front organization for the Church of Scientology, I had previously and inadvertently ordered and used these materials in my English Language Arts middle school classroom where my students connect the literature they read to specific human rights as listed in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Church of Scientology has no business extolling the virtues of human rights and here’s why. I ended my recent post by promising to provide some alternative human rights teaching materials. If your child’s teacher discusses or teachers about human rights, suggest they check out the materials from these organizations instead:

  1. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights offers a Human Rights Education Series. First, download the PDF called “Teaching Human Rights: Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools.”

 

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Photo: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

While teachers are at the UN website, they may also peruse a publication called “Human Rights Education in the School Systems of Europe, Central Asia, and North America: A Compendium of Good Practice.” This is a directory of human rights education practices around the world. Educators may browse the listings and description to find an idea that might work for their classes and then contact the organization that produces the resources for more information. They may also download this color poster of the UDHR to hang in their classroom.

  1. The Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) offers a comprehensive range of teaching materials. Located in Minneapolis, AHR’s mission, according to its publications, is “to implement international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law.”

On the home page, click on Our Work and then Educators. Here teachers will find a useful Human Rights Toolkit that surpasses the YHRI’s booklet for its breadth of information and critical thinking content. In fact, the AHR’s toolkit specifically addresses several questions that my students have asked but not found answers to within the pages of the YHRI materials. Some of these questions include How can human rights be enforced? How does the United States Bill of Rights fit with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Which document addresses human rights for kids?

 

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Photo: The Advocates for Human Rights

 

I’m thinking about downloading the PDF, copying, and binding a class set of these toolkits for my students to use. The toolkit includes chapters entitled Human Rights Primer (basic definitions and vocabulary terms), Human Rights System (UN legal bodies, regional and international groups such as the International Criminal Court), Human Rights and the U.S. ( a timeline of human rights in this country, analysis of the U.S. Constitution and human rights).

Some of the information provided by the AHR is not without political bias, especially in discussions of the death penalty, health care, and post-9/11 anti-terrorism policies, among others. Teachers should review this material before discussing with students, so the information is used to assist students in developing their own opinions on human rights policy.

  1. Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) is a non-governmental nonprofit registered as a charity in the Netherlands. HREA supports human rights education through materials that focus on children’s rights, gender equality, women’s empowerment, human rights teaching, global advocacy, and e-learning courses. Watch this HREA video about the right to education.

HREA’s Path to Dignity human rights film surpasses the ten-minute film from YHRI in quality and content. It contains accounts of human rights activity and education in India, Australia, and Turkey. Teachers can view the entire 28-minute film or the portions that best meet their curriculum needs.

 

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Photo: Human Rights Education Associates

 

So there you have it. Three alternative resources to consult regarding human rights instead of those offered by the Church of Scientology and its front organizations, Youth for Human Rights International and United for Human Rights.

And by the way, the materials from these sources are superior in content to those by the cult. While the Scientology materials are colorful and well-produced, the information contained inside is shallow. The publishers have merely reworded the UDHR, restating each of the thirty human rights into shorter sound bites. The booklet and DVD contain some brief historical information on the evolution of human rights, but little else.

There is no mention, for example, of the International Bill of Human Rights, which provides a framework through international treaties and covenants that allows the force of law to be applied when violations occur. There is also no mention of the many human rights treaty bodies around the world and the obligations governments assume when its leaders sign a treaty or covenant.

Like all those website photos of Scientology’s sterile, empty church facilities and imposing high-rise towers, YHRI’s educator’s kids are slick but superficial. Teacher of human rights can do much better. They should avoid the Church of Scientology, Youth for Human Rights International, and United for Human Rights and try these alternative resources instead.


Thanks for reading. Click “like” if you found this informative. If you want to be even more awesome, leave a comment! Follow this blog for more articles about teaching middle school English or check out my sister blog.