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We cannot continue with a popular education that is mostly reactive.

1. Popular education is a central part of the agenda of the human rights (HR) movement and must be oriented towards redefining development policies, as well as redefining the concept of social, ethical and environmental responsibility in the different sectors of our respective societies.

2. In this thrust, the biggest challenge we face may not be the introduction of new concepts and of ‘possible futures’, but actually to rise to the challenge of eradicating the old concepts and the oversold, rather ‘hopeless futures’.

3. Therefore, human rights learning (HRL) is THE challenge to address in building this new sense of community in our societies. (J. Osorio)

4. HRL has to come-in to address the so called ‘modern-age-conditions’, to place concrete demands and to foster concrete actions that confront face-on the unfair elements of this ‘condition’.

5. This, we consider carries a number of risks we have to be prepared to deal with, because such actions:

  • Will require establishing new social contracts in which the respect for HR is placed at the center and in which solidarity links among organizations are set-up as-soon-as-possible as a response to the flagrant conflicts brought about by this modern-age-condition.*

*: The call here is for going beyond the increasingly popular eco-literacy movement related to climate change and instead go into a more all-encompassing HRL movement (that does have fostering environmental responsibility as one of its components –but just as one among other equally important components).

  • Will require developing a greater sense of social and political responsibility when addressing the inequalities of the risk society, primarily the social exclusion and the environmental deterioration it perpetuates.
  • Will require embarking in a process of politicizing HRL, i.e., carrying out education in the public sphere with a political orientation.


6. In short, HRL has to become proactive when facing the challenges of the risk society. Every step of the way, we will have to clearly justify why we are going beyond ‘standard’ and intellectualized concepts, myths and academic jargon.

7. Through a moral and political learning process, we have to draw new organizational maps and new ways of ‘getting-to-know-reality’ (we see what we look for…) that can generate levels of social and political solidarity among civil society never before seen.

8. What we are talking about here is of multiplying exchange dialogues between the facilitators’ and the learners’ different realities and world visions, all through the lens of the HR framework.

9. This approach clearly leads HRL facilitators to act as mobilizers of marginalized social groups so the latter begin proactively opposing exclusion, discrimination and the violation of their inalienable HR.

10. By getting on with such actions the goal is to enable people to start working together to demand the un-postponable needed structural changes are made. HRL is thus to become the expression of a public morality based on HR. To get there, HRL has to build confidence in people so as to mobilize them while still respecting diversity.

11. Do not get this wrong now: HRL is to be a process in which individuals and groups of people get involved voluntarily as HRL is ultimately geared towards potentiating their social capabilities, those that allow them to become competent, autonomous, independent, and good managers of their own development.

12. All this requires HRL to bring-in and instill a good dose of reasoning and of argumentation-to-explain-and make-sense of what, in times past, has been taken as a given or a fait-accompli. This is what, in our experience, HRL does best; and this is the new educational pragmatism we have to adopt, i.e., a pragmatism that adheres to solidarity movements, that strengthens praxis, that goes back to ask about the sense of ‘what-is-considered-to-be-common’, and that asks about what HR-as-a-universal-value is all about.

13. No doubt, what we have in front of us is the daunting task of working towards making these HRL processes flourish and grow, as well as the no less challenging task to analyze the practical experiences that are already slowly opening new inroads in popular education. For that, we have to multiply our efforts and do much more work for and through HRL groups the world over. These groups have to impart an education that responds to the ubiquitous HR violations and challenges using totally new learning contents and methods, as well as opening new HR learning opportunities and venues.

14. In endless contexts worldwide, it is no longer conceivable not to speak publicly and politically about HR, about democracy, about dignity, and about marginalization. So we cannot leave these discussions aside; we absolutely have to address these issues openly.  HRL is the vehicle.

15. In sum, we can say that all this is about global action for a new popular democracy.

16. The take-home message from all of this is that HRL is here to combat ambiguity and procrastination, because both are conducive either to non-action: “no matter what I do, it is wrong or will not change things”– or conducive to too little action based on a faulty interpretation of reality that is biased towards an unacceptable status-quo: “not doing anything is alright; it will all sort itself out –eventually”. We forcefully contest and fight against these attitudes!

17. And remember: At the end of the day, we should be teaching for human rights, not teaching about human rights!  (J. Dhomse)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Mostly adapted from L. Weinstein, Ed., Multiversidad, Editorial Universidad Bolivariana, Coleccion Nuevos Paradigmas, Santiago, Chile, May 2009; and D+C, 36:5, May 2009.

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