Teaching Progress: A Critique of the Grand Narrative of Human Rights as Pedagogy for Marginalized Students
RT 103: Radical Teaching About Human Rights: Part One

How to Cite

Linde, R., & Arthur, M. M. L. (2015). Teaching Progress: A Critique of the Grand Narrative of Human Rights as Pedagogy for Marginalized Students. Radical Teacher, 103, 26–37. https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2015.227


With the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, education about human rights became an important focus of the new human rights regime and a core method of spreading its values throughout the world. This story of human rights is consistently presented as a progressive teleology that contextualizes the expansion of rights within a larger grand narrative of liberalization, emancipation, and social justice. This paper examines the disjuncture between the grand narrative on international movements for human rights and social justice and the lived experiences of marginalized students in urban environments in the United States. Drawing on our experience as professors who teach human rights, social justice, and social movements courses at an urban, four-year college in Providence, R.I., with a student body which includes large populations of students who are of color, first-generation, economically disadvantaged, and nontraditional in other ways, we explore the relevance and impact of these grand narratives for the lives of our students and their sense of agency. In particular, we advocate for a critical and transformational approach to human rights pedagogy to counter and overcome the pervasive individualization that undergirds the grand narrative of human rights. We argue that a critical (and radical) human rights pedagogy must evaluate the position of the individual in modern life if liberation through human rights law and activism is to be possible.


Aries, Elizabeth. Race and Class Matters at an Elite College. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2008. Print.

Aries, Elizabeth, and Maynard Seider. “The Role of Social Class in the Formation of Identity: A Study of Public and Elite Private College Students.” The Journal of Social Psychology 147.2 (2007): 137-57. Print.

Armstrong, Elizabeth A., and Laura T. Hamilton. Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Print.

Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. “Measuring College Performance.” Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education. Eds. Kirst, Michael W. and Mitchell L. Stevens. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. 169-89. Print.

Ayers, Rick, and William Ayers. Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 2011. Print.

Baker, Vicki L., Roger G. Baldwin, and Sumedha Makker. “Where Are They Now? Revisiting Breneman’s Study of Liberal Arts Colleges.” Liberal Education 98.3 (2012): 48-53. Web. 4 June 2013. <https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/


Beck, Ulrich. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1992. Print.

Black, Edwin. IBM and the Holocaust. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001. Print.

Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis. Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life. New York: Basic Books, 1976. Print.

Brint, Steven G., et al. “From the Liberal Arts to the Practical Arts in American Colleges and Universities: Organizational Analysis and Curricular Change.” The Journal of Higher Education 76.2 (2005): 151-80. Print.

Carnoy, Martin. Education as Cultural Imperialism. New York: David McKay Company, 2012. Print.

Chambliss, Daniel F., and Christopher G. Takacs. How College Works. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014. Print.

Complete College America. Time Is the Enemy: The Surprising Truth About Why Today’s College Students Aren’t Graduating...And What Needs to Change. Washington, D.C.: Complete College America, 2011. Web. 3 June 2014.<http://www.completecollege.org/docs/Time_Is_the_Enemy.pdf>

Cook, Bryan and Natalie Pullaro. 2010. “College Graduation Rates: Behind the Numbers.” American Council on Education Center for Policy Analysis, Washington, D.C. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/


Cox, Rebecca D. College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

DeAngelo, Linda, et al. Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions. Los Angeles, CA: Higher Education Research Institute of the University of California Los Angeles, 2011. Web. 3 June 2015. <http://heri.ucla.edu/DARCU/CompletingCollege2011.pdf>

Degener, Sophie C. “Making Sense of Critical Pedagogy in Adult Literacy Education,” National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy 2(2001): 1-22. Web. 14 July 2015. <http://www.ncsall.net/index.html@id=562.html>

Deil-Amen, Regina. “The ‘Traditional’ College Student: A Smaller and Smaller Minority and Its Implications for Diversity and Access Institutions.” Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education. Eds. Kirst, Michael W. and Mitchell L. Stevens. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. 134-65. Print.

Dougherty, Kevin J., et al. “Performance Funding for Higher Education: Forms, Origins, Impacts, and Futures.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 655.1 (2014): 163-84. Print.

Dougherty, Kevin J., and Rebecca S. Natow. The Politics of Performance Funding for Higher Education: Origins, Discontinuations, and Transformations. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Print.

Doyle, William R., and Michael W. Kirst. “Explaining Policy Change in K-12 and Higher Education.” Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education. Eds. Kirst, Michael W. and Mitchell L. Stevens. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. 190-209. Print.

Ebert, Norbert. Individualisation at Work: The Self between Freedom and Social Pathologies. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2012. Print.

Edsall, Thomas. “Why Don’t the Poor Rise Up?” The New York Times (June 24, 2015). Web. 14 July 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/opinion/why-dont-the-poor-rise-up.html>

Ehrenberg, Ronald G. The Economics of Tuition and Fees in American Higher Education. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, 2007. Web. 7 June 2013. <http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/


Ely-Yamin, Alicia, “Empowering Visions: Toward a Dialectical Pedagogy of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly 15:4 (Nov 1993): pp. 640-685. Print.

Ettelbrick, Paula. “Since When is Marriage a Path to Liberation?”, OUT/LOOK (Fall 1989).

Falcon, Sylvanna and Michelle M. Jacob. “Human Rights Pedagogies in the Classroom: Social Justice, US Indigenous Communities, and CSL Projects,” Societies Without Borders 6:2 (2011): 23-50. Print.

Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing 2014. Print.

Giroux, Henry A. “Critical Pedagogy and the Postmodern/ Modern Divide: Towards a Pedagogy of Democratization,” Teacher Education Quarterly 31:1 (Winter 2004), 31-47. Print.

Grummell, Bernie. “The ‘Second Chance’ Myth: Equality of Opportunity in Irish Adult Education Policies,” British Journal of Educational Studies 55:2 (2007): 182-201. Print.

Guzzini, Stefano (2005). “The Concept of Power: a Constructivist Analysis,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 33:3, (2005): 495-521. Print.

Hout, Michael. “Social and Economic Returns to College Education in the United States.” Annual Review of Sociology 38 (2012): 379-400. Print.

Kuh, George D., et al. Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. Print.

Liasidou, Anastasia. “Inclusive education and critical pedagogy at the intersections of disability, race, gender and class,” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10: 1 (2012): 168-184. Print.

Linde, Robyn. “The Globalization of Childhood: The international diffusion of norms and law against the child death penalty,” European Journal of International Relations, 20, no. 2 (2014), 544-568. Print.

Lohrenscheit, Claudia. “International Approaches in Human Rights Education,” International Review of Education, 48: 3-4 (2002): 173-185. Print.

Lucal, Betsy. “Neoliberalism and Higher Education: How a Misguided Philosophy Undermines Teaching Sociology.” Teaching Sociology 43.1 (2015): 3-14. Print.

Magendzo, Abraham. “Pedagogy of human rights education: a Latin American perspective,” Intercultural Education 16:2 (May 2005): 137-143. Print.

McLaren, Peter and Gustavo Fischman. “Reclaiming Hope: Teacher education and social justice in the age of globalization,” Teacher Education Quarterly (Fall 1998): 125-133. Print.

McPherson, Michael S., and Morton Owen Schapiro. “The Future Economic Challenges for the Liberal Arts Colleges.” Daedalus 128.1 (1999): 47-75. Print.

Meyerson, Debra E., and Megan Tompkins. “Tempered Radicals as Institutional Change Agents: The Case of Advancing Gender Equity at University of Michigan.” Harvard Journal of Law and Gender 30 (2007): 303-22. Print.

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty 3rd ed. London, UK: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, & Green, 1864. Print.

Moyn, Samuel. “Do Human Rights Increase Inequality?” The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 26, 2015). Web. 4 June 2015.

Mutua, Makau W. “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights,” Harvard International Law Journal, 42:1 (2001): 201-245. Print.

Reardon, Betty A. “Human Rights Learning: Pedagogies and Politics of Peace,” Lecture delivered for the UNESCO Chair for Peace Education Master Conference at the University of Puerto Rico (April 15, 2009). Web. 14 July 2015. <http://www.pdhre.org/HRLreardon.pdf>

Rhode Island College Office of Institutional Research and Planning. Fact Book 2014-2015. Providence, RI: Rhode Island College, 2015. Web. 2 June 2015. <http://www.ric.edu/oirp/pdfreports/FactBook2014-15.pdf>

Rosen, Michael. What Else but Home? Seven Boys and an American Journey between the Projects and the Penthouse. New York: PublicAffairs, 2009. Print.

Settersten, Richard A., Jr. “The New Landscape of Early Adulthood: Implications for Broad-Access Higher Education.” Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education. Eds. Kirst, Michael W. and Mitchell L. Stevens. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015. 113-33. Print.

Shor, Ira. Empowering Education. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press (1992). Print.

Smelser, Neil J. Dynamics of the Contemporary University: Growth, Accretion, and Conflict. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013. Print.

Taylor, Catherine G. “Teaching for a Freer Future in Troubled Times.” Inside the Academy and Out: Lesbian/Gay/Queer Studies and Social Action. Eds. Ristock, Janice L. and Catherine G. Taylor. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. 15-30. Print.

Tirelli, Vincent. “Adjuncts and More Adjuncts: Labor Segmentation and the Transformation of Higher Education.” Social Text 51.Academic Labor (1996): 75-91. Print.

Webster, Lindsey N. “The Rise of Human Rights Education: Opportunities, Challenges, and Future Possibilities,” Societies Without Borders 9:2 (2014): 188-210. Print.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust 1941-1945. 1984. New York: The New Press, 1998. Print.

Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:

1.  The Author retains copyright in the Work, where the term “Work” shall include all digital objects that may result in subsequent electronic publication or distribution.

2.  Upon acceptance of the Work, the author shall grant to the Publisher the right of first publication of the Work.

3. The Author shall grant to the Publisher and its agents the nonexclusive perpetual right and license to publish, archive, and make accessible the Work in whole or in part in all forms of media now or hereafter known under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License or its equivalent, which, for the avoidance of doubt, allows others to copy, distribute, and transmit the Work under the following conditions:
Attribution—other users must attribute the Work in the manner specified by the author as indicated on the journal Web site; with the understanding that the above condition can be waived with permission from the Author and that where the Work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.

4. The Author is able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the nonexclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the Work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), as long as there is provided in the document an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.

5. Authors are permitted and encouraged to post online a pre-publication manuscript (but not the Publisher’s final formatted PDF version of the Work) in institutional repositories or on their Websites prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work. Any such posting made before acceptance and publication of the Work shall be updated upon publication to include a reference to the Publisher-assigned DOI (Digital Object Identifier) and a link to the online abstract for the final published Work in the Journal.

6. Upon Publisher’s request, the Author agrees to furnish promptly to Publisher, at the Author’s own expense, written evidence of the permissions, licenses, and consents for use of third-party material included within the Work, except as determined by Publisher to be covered by the principles of Fair Use.

7. The Author represents and warrants that:

     the Work is the Author’s original work;
     the Author has not transferred, and will not transfer, exclusive rights in the Work to any third party;
     the Work is not pending review or under consideration by another publisher;
     the Work has not previously been published;
     the Work contains no misrepresentation or infringement of the Work or property of other authors or third parties; and
     the Work contains no libel, invasion of privacy, or other unlawful matter.
8. The Author agrees to indemnify and hold Publisher harmless from Author’s breach of the representations and warranties contained in Paragraph 6 above, as well as any claim or proceeding relating to Publisher’s use and publication of any content contained in the Work, including third-party content.