Josie Perry, Choices Teaching Fellow
Rising Sun High School-North East, MD

As I began teaching the Competing Visions on Human Rights: Questions for US Policy unit, I wanted to pre-assess my students’ opinions on US involvement in international affairs, so I had my students watch The Devil Came on Horseback.  The students were fascinated by the documentary because most of them were unaware of the genocide happening in Sudan.  After they viewed the documentary, we had a Touchstones discussion focusing on international intervention in human rights violations.  Touchstones is a discussion format that my district is implementing in all content areas.  It is based on the students reading a text and then discussing a central question.  It is a student-driven activity where the teacher assumes the role of observer.  My initial question was:

If you see someone mistreating another person, how do you respond:

  1. Walk away because it’s none of my business.
  2. Get someone to help me diffuse the situation between the two people.
  3. Step in and help only if I know the person who is being mistreated.
  4. Step in and help the person who is being mistreated because it is the right thing to do.

Why?

Students answered the initial question independently and then shared their responses in small groups.  Then, as a class, we read “This I Believe” by Sunita, who was an aid worker in Sudan.  In this piece, Sunita proposes that all people have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, which is a similar message to Brian Steidle’s in The Devil Came on Horseback.  The students had many questions about the situation in Sudan, so it was difficult for me to act as only an observer for this discussion.  I was amazed at the students’ poignant thoughts on the topic of intervention!  Students were able to see the challenges of any type of intervention and how complex international events can be in today’s globalized world.

I ended the unit by revisiting the question of international intervention in human rights issues and we focused on the current situation in Syria.  I used the AP interactive on Syria and BBC News Syria: The Story of the Conflict sites to provide my students with the background on the conflict.  Then we read “Responsibility to Protect: The Moral Imperative to Intervene in Syria” by James P. Rudolph and discussed R2P within the context of the Syrian situation.  The students’ discussions were so rich and meaningful.  It was one of those days that reminded me why I chose teaching!  Throughout the unit, students gained a greater understanding of the complexity of human rights and the existing paradox in US human rights policy.

Readings:

Sunita. “This I Believe.” This I Believe RSS. N.p., 4 Sept. 2006. Web. 15 Feb. 2013.

Rudolph, James P. “‘Responsibility to Protect’: The Moral Imperative to Intervene in…” Christian Science Monitor. 08 Mar 2012: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 03 Mar 2013.


Competing Visions on Human Rights: Questions for US Policy is available from The Choices Program website. It is also available as a Free iBooks Textbook from the iBookstore.