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Release: May 10, 1999

UI Center for Teaching of Human Rights proposed

IOWA CITY, Iowa --For all that’s terrible about the crisis in Kosovo, the news and vivid images pouring out of Yugoslavia provide educators with a unique opportunity to teach students about human rights.

Unfortunately, teachers don’t always have the necessary tools to put human rights in context and make classroom sessions meaningful. Providing teachers and teachers-in-training with training and resources -- in the form of historical, political and cultural background information, as well as contacts with experts on human rights "hot spots" -- would be the primary mission of a proposed Center for the Teaching of Human Rights in the University of Iowa’s Office of International Education.

"The issue of human rights has always been important and has been the key to teaching many subject areas, including history, politics and international studies, except the information is usually old," said Paul Retish, director of the Office of International Education in the UI College of Education. "There is much new material out there, but teachers and people going into education may not know where to find it. That’s where the center would come in."

The office promotes diversity in the College of Education by assisting faculty to work with educational systems in other countries and support those involved in cross-cultural and international research. It also hosts international visitors and promotes and negotiates agreements with international institutions for faculty and student exchanges and collaborative research.

Retish said the need for a human rights resource center for educators has been made apparent by the ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia and other countries, as well as problems closer to home, such as hate crimes and school violence.

"The material on the Web and in movies lends credence to the need for this kind of information," he said. "We want to train faculty, provide pre-service and in-service training, tell teachers what exists, how to use it, provide background on histories and behaviors."

The Center for the Teaching of Human Rights, which would be separate from a proposed Human Rights Center at the UI, is still in the planning stages, according to Retish. But he said the Office of International Education is already providing many of the services he envisions being provided by the center.

With funding from the United States Information Agency, the office has been working with educators in the emerging democracies of the Czech Republic, Armenia and East Timor to develop curricula that include large components about living in a democracy and the importance of protecting individual rights.

"We also try to get them to analyze the attitudes and experiences in their own country to words such as freedom and human rights," Retish said.

In Indonesia, the office has included in teacher training programs and in the schools discussion topics on human rights and the transition to a democracy.

The office sponsors International Day at the UI each year for local students and teachers to explore human rights issues. It is also organizing a workshop for teachers, teachers in training and teacher trainers to give them information on human rights and to share already established materials.

"I would say we have begun, and what we are trying to do is expand this idea into the College of Education being the center for a program in the teaching of human rights," Retish said. "The movement now is to determine support so we can expand the effort and to get out the message that we are the place to look for materials, ideas and support in developing curriculum materials in human rights."

More information about the Office of International Education can be found at its Web site: