Human & Civil Rights

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Introduction

Human and civil rights are under threat of violation in America’s schools all the time. The National Education Association is working with dynamic and strategic partnerships to maximize change in every arena in which change may be affected so that all of America’s youth have equal opportunities for education. Issues of bullying, immigration, the School-to-Prison pipeline, and language learning opportunities are part of the multi-pronged approach of the advocates to advance human and civil rights in schools.

Human & Civil Rights in Education

Human and civil rights in education is no new issue. In 1954 in the case Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren spoke out, in these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunities .  Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available on equal terms. (Amurao)

However, assuring equal rights in America’s schools has yet to be unilaterally achieved. Supporting equal advancement for all students through a multiplicity of programs and focuses, the National Education Association (NEA) is a staunch defender of human and civil rights. Although their focus is largely on education and supporting student’s communities dynamics, the NEA understands that supporting human and civil rights at every and any level supports the strength of education. As such the NEA advocates to defend essential rights in the arenas of:

Bullying prevention

LGBTQ rights

Immigration reform

School-to-prison pipeline

Advocacy for English

Language Learners (ELLs)

Diversity (NEA)

While human and civil rights are closely linked they are two different domains in which the NEA and their strategic partners understand need specific approaches. Human rights are thought of: as the most fundamental rights. They include the right to life, education, protection from torture, free expression, and fair trial. Many of these rights bleed into civil rights, but they are considered to be necessities of the human existence…In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cementing their foundation in international law and policy. (HG Experts)

Civil rights are slightly different, but are supported by human rights. Civil rights are understood as: those rights that one enjoys by virtue of citizenship in a particular nation or state. In America, civil rights have the protection of the U.S. Constitution and many state constitutions. Civil rights protect citizens from discrimination and grant certain freedoms, like free speech, due process, equal protection, the right against self-incrimination, and so forth. Civil rights can be thought of the agreement between the nation, the state, and the individual citizens that they govern. (HG Experts)

In the many areas in which the NEA organizes and advocates the ways in which human and civil rights are violated consistently in schools is their focus. Schools are smaller reflections 

(Figure 1 omitted for preview. Available via download).

of culture, and at any point in which rights are permissively violated in schools youths will become conditioned to the continued abuse as adults. One way the NEA is addressing both human and civil rights against youths in schools is the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

The majority of non-minority Americans do not even realize this problem exists because it is largely unreported in the news, and does not affect Caucasian children. This issue is the violation of both human and civil rights through escalating school discipline to expelling and moving discipline into the hands of the courts. This looks like:

The school-to-prison pipeline: an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are suspended, expelled or even arrested for minor offenses that leave visits to the principal’s office a thing of the past. Statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities. (Amurao)

In many of these cases children are acting out due to extreme stress in their home, and if they are removed from school they will be without an essential support system. As a result, youths who are expelled for “smaller offenses become hardened, confused, embittered. Those who are unnecessarily forced out of school become stigmatized and fall behind in their studies; many eventually decide to drop out of school altogether, and many others commit crimes in their communities” (Amurao). The chart above shares the stark racially segregated statistics, which may reflect the for-profit privatization of the prison system in America and the need for consistent prison populations. 

Addressing this the NEA has made legislative policy approaches to make it harder for troubled minority youths to be pushed into prison. They advocate:

Presentation of facts related to incidents that give rise to the need for discipline;

Application of discipline that is nondiscriminatory and fair handed;

Problem solving techniques that analyze the root causes of the behavior and/or disciplinary issue;

Creation of a discipline structure that meets the needs of all students, including general education, gifted education, and special education students;

Discipline outcomes that are educational and not overly punitive and ensure that students are learning academically and not focused on negative outcomes;

A variety of intervention techniques that are tailored to the individual student and the contextual circumstances;

Ensuring that harsh discipline, such as suspension and expulsion, are used as a last resort; 30 and

Input from, educators, parents, students, and community. (NEA)

NEA Training & Awards

In order to support the mission of strengthening justice for youths, the NEA holds human and civil rights trainings as well as awards for individuals who stand out in advocacy. Training is the process of spreading awareness of the issue as well as preparing educators to protect their students from violations. The NEA hosts human and civil rights training on many elements of this issue:

Bullying and Sexual Harassment Training 

Cultural Competence Training 

Diversity Training 

English Language Learner Culture & Equity Training 

Safety, Bias, and LGBTQ Issues Training 

Minority Leadership Training 

Social Justice Training 

Women's Leadership Training (NEA 17-18)

The awarding of human and civil rights leaders has been going on for the NEA since 1967, and correlates with their 1966 merger with the American Teachers Association (ATA). This yearly celebration not only honors those leaders in the field, but cultivates awareness of the human/civil rights abuses they confront. At this ceremony the NEA emphasizes, “We honor our past and rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task of creating a just society. We owe it to the children and young people we educate” (NEA). They are going a long way to achieve their goal to the benefit of all youths. 

Conclusion

It is a travesty that children are not better protected from human and civil rights abuses, but this is a reality that must be accepted if it is to be changed. Working with expansive and strategic partnerships, the National Education Association is drawing awareness to the many ways in which such violations undermine the health of the community both today and in the future. Working with local schools, and national advocates this initiative continues to be the bridge across troubled waters.

Notes

1: Chart retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/tsr/education-under-arrest/school-to-prison-pipeline-fact-sheet/

Works Cited

Amurao, Carla. “Fact Sheet: How Bad Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?” PBS, 2012. Retrieved from: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/tsr/education-under-arrest/school-to-prison-pipeline-fact-sheet/

HG Experts. “What is the Difference Between a Human Right and a Civil Right?” hg.org, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=31546

NEA. “Human and Civil Rights Trainings.” Nea.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/hcr-trainings.html

NEA. “Report of the NEA committee on Discipline and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Nea.org, 24 Apr. 2016. Retrieved from: http://ra.nea.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/NEA_Policy_Statement_on_Discipline_and_the_School_to_Prison_Pipeline_2016.pdf

NEA. “Human and Civil Rights.” Nea.org, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.nea.org/assets/docs/HCR_Department_Overview_(One-pager).pdf