Human Rights Day Lesson Plan

By Cari Jackson 11.30.2016 blog

December 10 is Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We’ve unlocked a Channel One News video that explains how Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech sought to move Americans to join the war and laid the framework for the declaration. A slideshow goes deeper into the subject. Follow this free lesson plan to help your students understand the impact of a single speech and a single document.

Objectives

Students will:

  • discover the origin of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • identify and apply Roosevelt’s four freedoms.
  • analyze the original text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Opening Activity

Ask students to listen carefully to this excerpt of FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech (NOTE: external link) and work with a partner to identify and/or guess:

  • Who is the speaker?
  • What is he speaking about?
  • To whom is he speaking?
  • Why might he be delivering such as speech?
  • When do you think this speech was delivered?

Words in the News

Review these words with students before proceeding with the lesson plan.

  • address (noun): a formal speech made to an audience
  • Heard on the Air: “They were first outlined back in 1941 by an American president during his State of the Union address.”
  • human rights (noun): a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person.
  • Heard on the Air: “It honors the day the United Nations General Assembly officially signed off on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document created by leaders all over the world that outlines the fundamental human rights that everyone deserves and deserves to have protected.”

Watch “Human Rights Day”

Original Air Date: December 10, 2015

Discuss

Use these discussion prompts for whole-class, think-pair-share or small group discussions.

  • How and why did the Universal Declaration of Human Rights come to be?
  • What was the purpose of President Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address?

Slideshow: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms

Image Credit: US National Archives

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union speech on January 6, 1941, Europe was at the mercy of Nazi Germany. Hitler had invaded Poland in 1939, and his army defeated the French army in a matter of weeks. By 1941, Britain alone stood against him. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill called on Roosevelt for help.

Image Credit: US National Archives

But Americans were reluctant to get involved in an overseas war. Many were still reeling from the First World War, in which nine million soldiers lost their lives. Roosevelt wanted to help Britain — and hoped his State of the Union speech would convince his fellow Americans that they should, too. “We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom,” he argued.

Image Credit: Center for Jewish History, NYC

In his powerful speech, Roosevelt outlined four freedoms to which he believed all people were entitled. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion to all American citizens. Roosevelt argued that everyone in the world should have those same freedoms, too.

Image Credit: Library of Congress

People all over war-torn Europe were forced to go without necessities such as food, clothing and housing. Roosevelt insisted that everyone was entitled to freedom from poverty, or “want.” As most Europeans lived in constant fear of military invasions and airstrikes, Roosevelt proposed a worldwide reduction in armaments to provide people with the freedom from fear.

Image Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

Roosevelt tried to persuade Americans that these four freedoms were worth fighting for. But it wasn’t until Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor eleven months later that America entered the war. Slowly, the balance of power shifted to the Allied forces. Nazi Germany eventually surrendered in May of 1945, bringing a close to World War II.

Image Credit: palinchak/Bigstock

Only after the six-year war ended did the world fully comprehend the tremendous devastation and atrocities that occurred. To ensure such acts never occurred again, world leaders met to ensure basic individual rights for all people. They established the United Nations and began drafting its founding document — which would eventually become known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Image Credit: Franklin D Roosevelt Library website

Following President Roosevelt’s death in 1945, his widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, chaired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights drafting committee. She often cited the four freedoms when advocating for its passage, and they provided the foundation for the document when the U.N. officially adopted it in 1948.

Image Credit: faustas/Bigstock

The UDHR looks beyond the world of war, declaring the right of all individuals to live in a peaceful environment. While Roosevelt expressed these views more than 70 years ago, his words still ring true today. Freedom to say what you think and to believe what you want. Freedom from extreme poverty and protection from violence and war. Do you believe these four freedoms are worth fighting for?

Discuss

Use these discussion prompts for whole-class, think-pair-share or small group discussions.

  • How and why did the Universal Declaration of Human Rights come to be? (to convince Americans to enter World War II)
  • What was the result of President Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address? (It established a foundation for many future international laws.)

Apply

Identify each of the four freedoms. Then answer the following questions about each freedom:

  • What does it mean?
  • Why do you think this is important?
  • Can you think of an example of this freedom in the U.S. or another country?
  • Can you think of an example of people, today or in history, who did not have this right?

Explanatory Writing

President Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union speech argued that people all around the world were entitled to four basic freedoms. What are the four freedoms he identified in his speech? Explain what each one means in your own words. Which one do you think is most important or relevant today? Why? Use information from today’s lesson and your own ideas to explain your reasoning.

Media Literacy

View the complete text of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (NOTE: external link).

Read the Preamble to the UDHR and answer the following:

  • Who is the author of this document?
  • What date was this document released?
  • What is the purpose of this document?

Next, work with a partner to analyze two articles of the UDHR and present your response to class. For each article, be prepared to answer:

  • In your own words, what right or freedom does this article grant?

Closing Activity

Exit ticket: Do you think that President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms are a realistic goal? Why or why not?

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