Teaching Human Rights to Toddlers

It's not easy being a three-year-old. There's so much to accomplish, what with potty training, learning to spoon-feed yourself, and negotiating the social minefield of play dates.

As if all that wasn't enough, UNICEF -- the United Nations Children's Fund -- now wants British toddlers to take lessons on human rights and multiculturalism, in between finger-painting sessions and nap time.

The UK branch of UNICEF is extending its Rights Respecting Schools scheme from primary schools to nursery school classes. According to UNICEF, the scheme "promotes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as the basis for enhancing teaching, learning, ethos, attitudes, and behavior." If you're wondering exactly what that means in practice -- or just what it means -- then you're probably not alone. The scheme's website is replete with such NGO-speak:

A Rights Respecting School teaches children and young people that they have rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. From this starting point they also learn their responsibility to respect others' rights in all relationships in the community.

The ethos created demonstrates to children the inclusiveness of a rights-respecting school and paves the way to participation in the life of the community. This in turn helps them to learn how to formulate, express, and listen to opinions, helping to raise their achievement.

According to the UK's Telegraph, the project "will see teachers explaining to children as young as three that people across the world live different lives but everyone has a right to food, water, and shelter." What the scheme actually appears to entail is an awful lot of poster-making. The report adds:

Primary and secondary schools can already win a Rights Respecting Schools award from UNICEF by putting up posters by the main entrance, signed by everyone from dinner ladies to the headteacher, which states their commitment to upholding the rights charter. Each classroom is also meant to contain a set of pupils' rights and responsibilities, while wall displays are expected to continue the theme.

Parents reading about this new obsession with teaching "rights" could be forgiven for thinking that schools should focus on doing a better job of teaching the existing three R's before adding a fourth to the syllabus. Because, while a decade and more of bar-lowering by Labour has led to more British pupils leaving school with more paper qualifications every year, anecdotal evidence from universities and employers suggests that educational standards are plummeting.

And the rot begins in primary school. A government report last year revealed that forty percent of British children struggle to write their own name, or form simple words such as "dog," by the age of five, while a quarter fail to reach the expected levels of emotional development for their age.

And with British teenagers leading most of Europe in binge drinking, violence, teenage pregnancy, and abortions, it could also be argued that instead of teaching children about "rights," or worrying about their tolerance of food from other cultures, schools should be more concerned with teaching them "right," as distinct from wrong.