This unit is for a 12th grade International Issues seminar with a human rights focus. Students begin by analyzing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its relevance in the 21st century, as struggles for human rights persist. They continue by studying a human rights issue through the work of a human rights defender. They spend most of the second semester analyzing causes, effects, and solutions related to a specific human rights issue as their Senior Project in the Law Pathway at our high school.
However, direct instruction on topics that connect human rights issues in the present with the historical events that have shaped contemporary crises was missing. Thus, I added a unit that unpacked the connection between the history of U.S. involvement in Central America and the recent human rights violations of migrants and their families at the United States-Mexico border.
In order to build students’ background knowledge about the causes of this crisis and the reasons migrants left their home countries, students analyzed the impact of U.S. military, economic, and political interventions throughout the 20th century. They answered the question: To what extent is the United States responsible for the current migrant crisis? Students worked collaboratively to develop virtual museums that guided viewers through the history and impact of U.S. involvement in Central America and its connection to present-day human rights issues.
While this addressed the importance of making connections between human rights issues and the historical events that shaped them, the course still lacks what students need to deepen their understanding of power, racism, imperialism, and resistance. In addition, students need more practice analyzing primary sources from the voices of resistance who have talked back to empire.
These observations have helped me to research and design the unit that follows. Students will not only learn about the United States’ military, political, and economic interventions around the world; they will also learn about the ongoing and organized resistance to these actions. This unit will also focus on the contradictions implicit in the United States’ relationships with other nations. Just as contradictions exist between the ideals expressed in the founding documents and the enactment of racist policies against Black and Brown people in the United States, contradictions exist with respect to the stated purposes and realities of U.S. interventionist policies. This unit will focus on these contradictions and use them as a tool for understanding the persistent and pernicious inequalities of power that result in current human rights abuses.